MSK Partners


Design, communication and what's on our mind

Just our type

It has been written that if Simon Garfield were reduced to a letter and a type style, he would be the lowercase “i” in Goudy Old Style—elegant but playful. And very readable. Recently, I came across Garfield’s Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. On the front cover, the title was treated as a hodgepodge of fonts, from Adriator Regular to Polytone Reliant; the back cover assigned the book, in tiny type and in a bizarre bifurcation, to “Reference/Humour.”

Fonts surround us every day, on billboards and buildings, on movie posters and books, and on just about every product we buy. But where do fonts come from, and why do we need so many? Who is responsible for the staid practicality of Times New Roman, the cool anonymity of Arial, or the irritating levity of Comic Sans?

Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type. He investigates a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was so effective. In summary, it’s a must-have book for the design conscious.

Filed under: Communication, Design

Study: The iPad is the biggest problem with iPad magazines

A new study, reported by Time Techland, suggests that iPad magazines have one major drawback when compared to their print editions: The iPad itself. A study carried out by Bonnier, publisher of Popular Science, Parenting and other magazines, discovered that the iPad is so distracting for most people that they may not even be able to finish an article without going to do something else.

Bonnier program director Megan Miller explains: “We thought that of course there’s a lot of activity going on with an iPad, when there’s so many things you can be doing — email, Netflix, playing games, reading magazines — but they’re actually bouncing around a lot more than we thought. If you sit someone down with a magazine, within seconds they’re researching the products that they could buy. If they see a snowboard in a snowboarding magazine, they’ll bounce over to Amazon to check the prices on it.”

It’s not just the distraction issue that’s a problem, Miller adds; “iPad magazine readers tended to think things were advertisements even when they weren’t:

When there was a full-bleed whole page dedicated to a product, people said, ‘Yeah, that’s an ad.’ And we selected people who were from an educated demographic. They were not dummies.” The dummies study group was too busy trying to eat the iPad to even notice there was a magazine to read, apparently.

It all adds up to the possibility that the iPad isn’t quite the savior of the magazine industry that everyone hoped it would be – or, at least, not yet. Bonnier plans to take these findings and create a next-generation iPad magazine that will be stickier and more clearly defined for readers.

Filed under: Design, Technology

Silver and Gold

We typically don’t enter creative award contests but are fortunate in having clients who like our work enough to enter it in various international and regional shows. Recently two such entries garnered awards: Bloomsburg University Magazine won a Gold at the MarCom Awards held by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals; and a brochure developed for the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory (more commonly known as GRASP) won Silver at the CASE Accolades Awards organized the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Please let us know if you would like us to send you a copy of either piece.


Filed under: Design, Higher Education

Getting a handle on the new Kindle

If you simply refuse to buy that other 9.7-inch e-reader that does oh-so-much more, consider the new Graphite Kindle™ DX . It combines all the benefits of prior Kindle models — like Whispersync book syncing, free 3G wireless for book downloads, the largest selection of e-Books around, and a hardware keyboard — in a new stylish graphite body that also sports an improved display with 50% better contrast. It also points out that as the Kindle, and the Apple iPad™ Tablet, continue to “mimic” traditionally-printed publications in size and format, they must also match their counterpart’s level of professional design and formatting.

Filed under: Communication, Design, Technology

Tom Peters in search of Excellent Design

The Corporate Design Foundation, a non-profit education and research organization, promotes design and business success stories through the publication @issue: The Journal of Business and Design.  The Foundation talked with Tom Peters, considered the preeminent authority on business management (“In Search of Excellence” ), about the role design can play in business.
You are best known as a guru of corporate management, so maybe we should start by asking what design encompasses for you?
Literally, everything. I once contributed a little piece called “Design Is ” for a book, in which I wrote down 100 things, listing everything from easy-to-fill-out airbills to baseballs, which I consider fabulous turn-ons. Design ranges from the physical layout of a room to the makeup artists who present Larry King to the public. It’s Winston Churchill’s “spontaneous” witty remarks, all of which he had carefully written out the night before on small scraps of paper and carried around with him. Another huge part of design is usability, which Don Norman discusses so well in his book, The Design of Everyday Things.
Is design purely practical?
Not really. I saw an article in Fortune recently where Steve Jobs is quoted saying “design is the soul of a manmade creation.” There’s a part of that I’m attracted to. I also loved Rose Tremain’s passage on music in her novel “Music and Silence,” which I think is just as true about design. [Reading from book] She writes, ” of course, we really do not know where music comes from, or why, or when the first note of it was heard, and we shall never know. It is the human soul speaking without words, but it seems to cure pain.” For me, design is elusive, it’s soul, it’s abstract, and it’s all of the opposites of those things.
Is design more important for marketing products than services?
No. Paradoxically, I believe that design is more important for services. Harvard marketing expert Ted Levitt pointed out years ago that if your product is tangible (planes, boats, cars, pen knife), you need to distinguish yourself from the herd by emphasizing intangibles i.e., service. If your product is intangible (banking, travel, etc.), distinguish yourself from the masses by emphasizing the tangible to wit, design. FedEx, for example, stands out on the tangibles of strong branding, clean trucks, easy-to-use forms. A business system, like FedEx’s, that works transparently on the surface and offers brilliant simplicity is as much about design as an iMac or a Beetle. If you’re a service business, it’s important to work on the tangibles.
Does the design industry recognize this fact?
Well, I found it interesting that when ID Magazine published its Top 40 list of organizations that make effective use of design, half of them were service companies. There were as many FedExs, Bloombergs and New York Yankees on the list as there were Gillettes, Caterpillars and Apples.
What mistakes have you seen managers make in terms of understanding and using design?
Mistake No.1 is treating design as a veneer issue rather than a soul issue. The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to “tidy up” the mess, as opposed to understanding that it’s a “day one” issue and part of everything.
How important is design in e-commerce?
It is e-commerce. Period. All stop. Whether it is the look of the screen, the innards, the delivery mechanism that actually makes the stuff come to fruition after you punch your one-click button, or the look-feel-taste-touch of the site itself, the Internet is a pure, unadulterated design medium.

Filed under: Design


We’re in the midst of design and production of the 2009 Annual Report and Proxy Statement for Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals – our fourth report for the New Jersey-based company. Today we completed a photo shoot in Toronto featuring a cancer patient. Despite some limitations of the location, the shoot was a great success. Our thanks to Evan Dion who we can thoroughly recommend if you ever need a photographer in Ontario.

Last year we did a similar shoot in Texas and used local photographer Darren Carroll who also turned out to be an excellent choice.

Filed under: Design