Portfolio Site Do's and Don'ts

Here are two publishing industry websites promoting values of good web design. Read the posts 'A Good Author Website Is...' at 26th Story and 'What not to have on your book website' at The Book Publicity Blog.

These particular posts are aimed specifically at the literary industry (author's websites), but many of these values apply across the board. A good portfolio site is easy to navigate, inherently entertaining or aesthetically pleasing, and it immediately engages and informs first-time visitors and gives them a reason to return. Flash should be used sparingly or not at all.


Sharpie Wall and 'Cello Scrotum'

Lawyer Charlie Kratzer decorated the basement of his Kentucky home with an elaborate Sharpie mural that covers every wall (check out this article for a scrolling panoramic view of the scene). His artwork includes everything from Picasso replicas to "Winston Churchill lounging with George Bernard Shaw." Good thing he's a lawyer; most people get grounded for this type of thing.

British doctors invented a medical claim called 'cello scrotum' that had string sections quaking in their wingtips for decades (read the CNN article). Other made-up conditions include 'guitarist's nipple' and 'flautist's pussy.'


Brand New.

Even if you are not a graphic design geek, you must have noticed the disastrous redesign of the Pepsi logo recently! That's why I was happy to see that redesign in the 'Worst' category at the Best & Worst of 2008 list at Brand New, a knowledgeable blog about corporate branding and logo design that is actually fun to read. Also, Planet Earth was on during a dinner party I attended recently, and I couldn't help but implore some party guests to explain the meaning of the sideways 'M' in the bizarre new Animal Planet logo. Of course no one could explain that purposeless stunt in the logo, and so I was happy to see that in the 'Worst' category, too. Their best of the year honor goes to the mouth-wateringly cool designs at 826 Valencia.

"It's okay to pull a rabbit out of your hat, but sometimes, a rabbit out of a hat is not what's called for." -Sergio Baradat


Visions of Vultures and Villains

Here's a most interesting oddity that I came across while doing research for a design project this week. I found this in an old book about the printing and book binding process. The caption reads, What a fine printer is apt to see when he lies awake at night. Who knew printers led such tormented lives? There's truly nothing scarier than villians, vultures, and graveyard bunnies.


Interview: Google Designer Ryan Germick

Today marks the debut of a new feature here at the Magnet Cat blog: a monthly interview with a creative professional. This month's subject is my great friend Ryan Germick. Ryan is a designer at Google as well as a cartoonist, web designer, Indiana native, and Prince enthusiast. Ryan and I attended the BA/BFA program at the New School together; we graduated in 2003 with BFA's in Illustration from Parsons School of Design and BA's in Writing from Eugene Lang College.

Ryan's got a dedicated work ethic and his creativity seems limitless. He comes from a family of numerous talented Germicks; you can check out their multimedia art empire Germart here (listen to Dylan and Nathan's new record Planet Booty and Nathan's mesmerizing Year of the Dragon). Also check out ryangermick.com and Ryan's comic, Gomance: My First Kiss. Last week, Ryan and I shared a cross-continent conversation about his storied Google career, the future of the internet, design inspiration, and T-Pain. Enjoy!

Dan Redding: What is your job title and place of employment?
Ryan Germick: I’m a Web Designer at Google. But really, I don’t do any web design; actually now I’m more of an illustrator.
There was a book published recently called What Would Google Do? Let’s settle this once and for all: what would Google do?
(Laughter) Google would organize the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible. That’s the mission statement – like, verbatim. Sorry. I’ve drunken the Kool-Aid. (Laughter) And they wouldn’t do it in an evil way!
That’s the Google motto I’ve heard quoted, right? ‘Don’t be evil’?
Yeah, I think they’re pretty legit about it… I think at the top of the company there is good in the hearts of the ones running it.
Is Google CEO Eric Schmidt a nice guy?
I think so! He said my video (see below) was the funniest thing on the planet. So we’re totally cool. It was really flattering.

Ryan stars in Google's first video for the Google Maps 'Street View' feature.
View more Google videos that Ryan wrote and/or starred in here, here, and here.

And yet Google is so ubiquitous, you guys seem to come under fire a lot… It was recently alleged that performing two Google searches can create the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle and that the global IT industry generates as much greenhouse gas as the world's airlines.
I noticed that the official Google blog did have a post that sort of tried to explain their power consumption… I know that Google does have a lot of care for their carbon emissions, and like even being around the company, we just got rid of plastic water bottles, you know, to try to be eco-friendly. We’re getting composting. You know, for a company with like eight thousand people – eight thousand people just in the headquarters, in Mountain View - that should hopefully make a difference… The data servers consume a lot of energy. I read that Google is working on a patent for a data server that would float in the middle of the ocean. It’d be cooled by the water, and would sort of rise and fall with the tide. The hydrodynamic power from the rising and falling of the tides would power it… More to the point of people complaining about Google, when anyone’s big, people complain about ‘em, you know? I mean, you could complain about T-Pain, but the truth is, T-Pain is money. (Read/watch more about Google’s green initiatives.)
Oh, and I will complain about T-Pain. I was on record today complaining about T-Pain and his ridiculous hats.
That’s why they call people like you a hater.
Google has a search robot named Googlebot. Have you ever met him?
(Laughter) I’m not at liberty to discuss. But I will say, it was consensual.
You have drawn some of the Google holiday illustrations that can be seen on the homepage periodically. What does it feel like to have your drawing viewed by more people than one can fathom in every nook and cranny on the Earth?
I don’t think about it that way. I guess I don’t take the drawings very personally, so, I try to have fun with them… but generally I just kind of keep quiet about it and it’s just sort of part of my job. I’m really grateful that I get paid to draw.

Ryan's illustration of new year animals was
visible on the Google homepage on January 1st, 2009.

I’m looking at your Happy New Year animals. They’re very cute and cuddly. The economy's in the gutter; what the hell are they so happy about?
You wanna hear an exclusive dish? I was totally ripping off one of my favorite illustrators, Mary Blair, who was a Disney story artist and a really talented illustrator. She did all this great concept art for Disney, for classic movies like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella. I thought people would call me out as some kind of total thief, but then nobody said anything. Nobody got the reference. Maybe I either failed, or no one knows anything about illustration anymore. But (the animals are) probably happy because I had a lot of fun doing it. Also, one of the characters – the purple monkey character – is actually not a monkey. It’s a motter. It’s half monkey, half otter. Her name is Oysterbar. A character that’s near and dear to my heart. I was happy I got to put in a character that’s been around in my world for awhile.
I guess in a lot of cases, you think that your inspiration is actually plagiarism, but usually you’re wrong, or no one else cares, or notices, or you have made it your own enough that it is your own.
Yeah! I’m shocked and I wish I would’ve done it sooner... You know our good friend and talented illustrator, Miki Amano. I would watch her draw, and she was also a big fan of Mary Blair, and I would see the way that she would use (Blair’s work) as a really creative and constructive influence, and it kind of opened me up to understanding that that’s okay, and it’s actually really healthy and good. So, it’s funny; it’s something that I thought was not good, and then it’s good.
What do you think the future holds for Google’s open source mobile platform, Android?
I will tell you that I’m talking on an Android phone right now and it’s pretty sweet. I’m a believer. It’s pretty darned open source, and I’m a believer in open source.
That’s kind of a crazy concept that web applications and development can be that democratic that anyone can have their input.
I think it’s great! And I think there’s no problem with it coexisting with iPhone. I think iPhone’s great, and I think that it’s cool that there’s other things out there. To bring it back to Google, as far as Google is concerned, they just want people using the internet. People are using the internet on iPhone, people are using the internet on Blackberry, that’s cool, because Google is in the business of selling ads, right? If people are using the internet, they’re probably using Google… so they’re happy.
I wonder if the future holds the potential for geniuses whose genius is code. When you think of geniuses and masterminds of the past, you think of artists and inventors. Now in the technology industry, there are brilliant entrepreneurs, of course, but I wonder if there will be someone who comes along and revolutionizes the whole design of the internet.
There is, man! There’s millions of them, and a bunch of them work for Google. The guy who invented the language Python, he’s a code genius, and he works for Google now. There’s amazing people there. They’re out there, it’s just a little less glamorous, because they don’t shoot themselves in the stomach… they play World of Warcraft till the wee hours. There are definitely code geniuses out there. You should look up the Computer History Museum.
Yeah, you’re right, that sounds really boring. (Laughter)

"My proudest accomplishment at Google is designing the animated poop emoticon."

From Android to Google’s browser Chrome, there always seems to be something new in the works at Google. What do you think is the most exciting venture in the works right now?
Well, I can’t talk about anything that hasn’t been released, but I think Android is really exciting and I think Chrome is really exciting. I was just talking to somebody about this on the Google Bus. I think Google Reader is the most underrated Google product. I think Google Reader is really cool. Google Reader lets you collect all the blogs and news sources that you read in one unified place, and then it lets you share what you like to read with your friends, and it’s very well designed and very simple and very effective. I think Gmail is a great product.
I totally agree.
Yeah, and they have Gmail Labs now, so there’s all these cool new features coming out. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but – can you put in a pull quote that my proudest accomplishment at Google is designing the animated poop emoticon? There’s a poop emoticon in Gmail, and that’s my proudest accomplishment.
I’m gonna see to it that that’s what it reads on your tombstone.
They’re gonna animate my tombstone anyway. (Laughter)
When do the machines plan to rise up and wage war on us humans?
It’s a goal for mid-2009. If Obama doesn’t give us reason to not start the coup, then it’s on.
Why do you say ‘us’? You’re on my side!
Oh, right, humans. Go humans.

Robot drawing by Ryan.
Read the comic here.

Are you on Twitter?
What is your favorite website to visit for fun?
I really like the Sorry I Missed Your Party blog.
What site do you visit for news?
I go to the New York Times, to the Huffington Post, I read tons of blogs through Google Reader. I probably keep up with like fifty blogs. I’ll give a shout out to my friend Ryan, who runs the Electric Ant Zine blog.
What do you think is the future of web design?
I think the future is going to be information-dense, lightweight, a lot of information through things like RSS, getting things on the go…
Things are getting too small: a favicon, and an emoticon, and a 140-character Tweet…
Basically the future of web design is gonna be on a little tiny screen. That’s okay… In regards to Twitter, I don’t get it, exactly, but I know people are into it. I’m visual, so I like Flickr, I like having photos and comics and stuff that people do. But it’s really cool that a site like Flickr has everything universally formatted, and I can have RSS feeds for it. It’s not the prettiest presentation, but it’s so efficient that you’re basically mainlining information. And that’s where it’s at and that’s where it’ll stay… I think the internet’s built for, you know, the information superhighway. I coined that phrase. Tons of information all the time. And if you can set it up in an efficient, lightweight way, then you can really get your fix.

Ryan talking.

What is the most important thing you learned in design school?
Time management skills and life balance are really good things to have.
There are a few quotes from Parsons professors that still ring through my head quite often. Like when Viktor Koen told me, “you say you love type, now it’s time to make love to type.” Do you have any quotes that you are often reminded of?
Yeah, there was this professor Richard Waxburg, he was awesome. He said three things that I remember very distinctly. He was the first person to use the word gestalt that I knew of. He talked a lot about the overall feeling of something. It’s like another way of saying, ‘does it work or not?’ But gestalt is so much more German and nice. I like saying that. He also said that you have to take things on their own terms. That concept is the basis of a really constructive critique. You start to say, ‘what is the artist trying to do?’ And you really empathize with the artist. That to me is the basis of constructive criticism and I can thank Richard for that. (And the third thing I learned from him) was that you gotta be ruthless. Ruthless in the sense that if you’re drawing a figure, and you really get into the details of the knuckles, and you feel really, really good about the knuckles, but if you aimed to draw the figure, and it turns out that you screwed up the arm, you just have to be willing to suck it up – to meet your goal, you gotta erase the knuckles, you know? You gotta just wipe it out. You gotta be willing to be really hard on yourself, and not be precious, and do what needs to be done to make it happen. He was really into that. He’d get on his knees and yell.
I remember how crazed his paintings could be. He was a walking gestalt.
He was a walking gestalt. And what else could you hope to be?
Any artists that you’ve been deriving creative inspiration from lately?
I forever love Osamu Tezuka. Another artist who I love dearly who recently passed away is Fujio Akatsuka. And then also, two of my friends whose work I really love and are a continual inspiration to me are Bay-area cartoonist Hellen Jo and Calvin Wong. I’m constantly surrounded by inspiration.
What’s the last great graphic novel you read?
I just read Watchmen. I thought it was good. I really appreciate how many levels things were working on. There’s lots of dense layering of symbolism…

Ryan at the Alternative Press Expo (read more)

When and why did you decide to become a vegetarian?
Well I’m not, I eat fish still, so I guess I’m a pescatarian. I decided in a Dairy Queen in the summer of 1993, before ninth grade. I ate a burger and I was like, ‘This is disgusting, I feel terrible… I don’t wanna eat this anymore.’
What was the most profound change that came from your experience living in India?
There were several things… I saw people who were poor but pretty content. The pace of life was - if you showed up somewhere, people stopped what they were doing and just chilled out with you. Here I am thinking that Americans have it all figured out… But really, these people are the ones that really have time, because they don’t have the 'resources' to ruin it. (Ryan’s India photo site from way back in 2000: ryanayana.com/)
You’ve been an outspoken Prince fan for many years. We know what Google would do, but more importantly, what would Prince do?
(Long sigh) Um, I’ll tell you what I would like Prince to do. ‘Cuz I don’t know what Prince would do. I wish Prince would go back to basics. I have this fantasy of having, like, a Court TV show where my favorite artists who have disappointed me would be put on trial. I thought of this idea with my friend Peggy. It would be a court show where my favorite artists get put on trial, and I would sentence them to a project that they’d have to complete to get out of a prison. And I wanna put Prince in prison to make him come out with a four-track jail album, where he can’t use a lot of cheesy synthesizers… he’d have to use really simple materials to make a straightforward good song. He can’t just rely on his old studio tricks.
Would it be a purple prison?
That’d be fine. That’d be great.

Thanks to Ryan Germick. Next month: an interview with public relations and music biz whiz Kristina Weise.


Movie News (with hyperbole)

Tonight I was tired and ready to drift off into some ludicrous dream (my favorite recent one was when I battled a killer tomato... not kidding), so what did I do? I wasted a couple hours reading movie news online. Here's the results:

The documentary 'Tyson' premieres at Sundance this week. I am endlessly fascinated by the squeaky, tattooed former boxing champion. I just re-watched the superb 1993 documentary 'Fallen Champ,' and now I'm hungry for more...

I kinda thought Spike Jonze had fallen off the increasingly small face of the earth since 'Adaptation' (and his stint as wrinkly oldsters in both 'Jackass' movies), but it turns out he's been working on 'Where The Wild Things Are.' The monsters look great. Speaking of 'Jackass,' where's Number 3? How hard is it to drag Steve-O out of the gutter, prop him up, and get him to blow a goat for a few minutes?

Sounds like the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' is in limbo somewhere. I was excited for this one - the hiring of director John Hillcoat ('The Proposition') gave me hope - but the more I read, the more skeptical I am. Stills from the film just don't look grim enough, even if they do plan to do 'sky replacement' in post-production. I fear that this could be nothing more than a competent, obligatory film adaptation of a hit novel. This could turn out to be a bad idea dressed in a good idea's clothing...

Unfortunately, there always seems to be room on the big screen for another heartless, pointless remake. Will Smith is remaking 'The Karate Kid,' starring his son Jayden. I'd rather watch paint dry... while licking fecal matter off barbed wire. Apparently, so would Ralph Macchio, which he basically admitted without actually coming out and saying it.

'The Legacy of MLK'

I am impressed that the free television site Hulu has a feature called 'The Legacy of MLK' today. Check out some of the news clips and interviews!


Mail Day.

One of the best parts of life is when good things arrive in the mail. Today I got one shirt from Art In The Age and another from Jon Knox at Hello, Brute. In both cases I was impressed with product quality, beauteous packaging, and attention to detail. Check it:

Visit Art In The Age.

Visit Hello, Brute.

Next week, I will debut a new feature here at Magnet Cat: the monthly interview! Stay tuned.


I opened a sketchbook from many years ago and a small piece of paper fell out. On it is this verse from Upanishads:

We are like the spider.
We weave our life and then move along in it.
We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream.
This is true for the entire universe.



Instant Classic.

Last night, Miss Riss and I saw the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In at the Angelika. If I could watch it again right now, I would. On one hand, it is unlike any other vampire movie you have ever seen: tender, subtle, remarkable for its distressing quietude and stirring portrayals of adolescence. However, it also embodies the mythology of vampirism with more authenticity and heart than anything since Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski. Sunlight, flight, crypts, and hissing cats: all of these traditional elements of the vampire story are here and each one will set off an alarm in your mind or a tremble in your spine. Hollywood treatments of the subject range from glossy kids' candy (Twilight) to the ham-fisted, abrasive CGI barrage (the Underworld series). So Let the Right One In was a gust of fresh air and a genuine thrill. It uses vampirism as a metaphor, and yet the horrific climax will leave you reeling. Fuck, go see it immediately.

The Scariest Thing of All Time

I know what you're thinking: the scariest thing of all time has got to be either the root canal, Tilda Swinton's face, or Camden, New Jersey. But nay. The scariest thing of all time is the subliminal demon face that assaults your very spirit for less than a second at a time during The Exorcist. One source reported that the face is fashioned after this mask from the 1964 Japanese film Onibaba.


Charitable Tees

Yellow Bird Project is a nonprofit that asks their favorite bands to design a shirt for them, prints and sells the shirts, and then donates all of the proceeds to a charity of the band's choosing. How cool! My favorite is the shirt designed by The National.


New Winterfresh Scent!

The brand-spanking-new version of www.magneticstate.com is online! Now with %100 more newness! Now available in winterfresh scent!*

Please stop by and have a look at the work. I built the site myself, and I hope anyone who needs a website will get in touch! I especially encourage artists/photographers/balloon-tyers who need their portfolios online to contact me at dan@magneticstate.com. And, of course, you should get in touch if you need a logo/t-shirt/poster design for your band/company/diabolical invention. Thanks and Happy New Year!

Also, if you haven't read them yet, here are the two most-read Magnet Cat posts of 2008: 'Great Design in Music Now,' and 'The Best of Thrash Metal Cover Art.'

*Does not apply in certain parts of most parts of everywhere.

Blue Sky Law on Uncensored Interview

My great friend Sean's band Blue Sky Law has been interviewed on Uncensored Interview. The band won this opportunity during a Battle of the Bands event that was one of the most exciting rock shows I've witnessed in years! The contest was declared a tie, Blue Sky Law was offered the chance to perform one last song, and their thrilling performance led the judges to declare them the winners. Congrats, dudes! Visit Blue Sky Law on Myspace.


Proof Pudding

They say the proof is in the pudding, and now you can get both online. My good friend Scott and I have collaborated on his new food blog, Proof Pudding. I designed the logo and the website (with Wordpress). Visit the blog and leave a comment!