Giving back to Open

Giving back to Open

I often use public domain and creative commons licensed images and audio in my work. I really like the idea that high quality media is available for free to the public and that you can create something amazing without infringing on copyright. For businesses and professionals to function they can’t give everything away, but it’s nice to share what you can. With that in mind, I’ve recently posted several of the agriculture and GPS illustrations I created for work on Openclipart. I think that it’s time that I gave back to the OCAL community since I’ve definitely used dozens of graphics from other artists. You can see all of my illustrations on my tmjbeary OCAL profile, but here are a couple of my favorites:

How trilateration works to determine GPS position.

How trilateration works to determine GPS position.

Combine harvester with grain platform.

Combine harvester with grain platform.

Do you have any suggestions for illustrations I could create? I’ll also take requests for custom illustrations, with the stipulation that I’ll release it to the public domain on OCAL.

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Evolution of a Design

Evolution of a Design

It’s usually best to force yourself to come up with more than one version of an idea. Each iteration is more refined until in the end you have a better overall design. Sure, you might make missteps, but overall you’ll make progress. When I first started the Stahl group website, this was the graphic on the home page.

Original graphic from the Stahl Group website.

Original graphic from the Stahl Group website.

I wanted to try and make something with a bit more flair, while still keeping the original meaning. The graphic shows a catalytic cycle and how each focus of their research feeds into it. As we discussed the design more we wanted to show that some aspects feed into the group’s catalysis research (reaction mechanisms, synthetic methods, electrocatalysis) and others are products of the research (renewable energy, green chemistry). For those non-chemists out there, in a catalytic cycle the reactants typically enter on the lower-right, and products exit the cycle on the upper-left. Prof. Stahl also wanted to incorporate oxygen (O2) as the group’s catalysis research focuses on using oxygen as the oxidant. Below shows how my design evolved over time.

Design C was the last one I created and I felt it was the best overall. In the end, Prof. Stahl preferred the design from A, with slight modifications–the final result being design D.

There were actually more versions than this, but I wanted to show you the big steps in the design evolution, not every subtle change. This whole process reminded me that in the end the designer has to go with what the client wants, not necessary the version that the designer prefers.

One set of hands behind it all

One set of hands behind it all

One of the things that makes a design look good is if it looks like it was created by one set of hands. This kind of cohesion is hard to get right, but it’s easy to see when it’s wrong. I do a lot of presentation design and it’s that problem you see where someone just grabs the first image that pops up on Google image search to prove their point. It may work, but the presentation as a whole looks sloppy and confused because you end up with a mix or image styles. Developing a cohesive looks takes time though, and it’s something I’m working on for myself. I created all of the icons in my header, and I just uploaded the icons for my RSS feed, Facebook, and Google+ links that you see at right.

So when you can create the full set of images yourself, or try to find a collection of images from a single creator so they look like they belong together. The extra bit of time you spend doing it will really pay off in the end.

Color me insightful

Canon 550d - Pencil ColourColor is a crucial part of the message in any visual design. There are a plethora of color theories and guidelines out there. If you have a good eye, then most of it is common sense. Color Scheme Designer 3 is one of my favorite tools to quickly throw together a color scheme. At first glance it may seem pretty simplistic, but play around with it a bit and you’ll discover the subtleties you can achieve using the “Adjust Scheme” options. Once you have a set of colors you like you can look at the “Color List” to quickly see all of the hex color codes, or export your scheme in a variety of formats. There’s also an option to view your color scheme as a colorblind person would see it, which can help you with accessibility. (Two colors that are distinct to someone with normal vision may be nearly someone who is colorblind.

Color is about more than just what looks good however. Continue reading

Image websites

When  you need images for a design project where do you look? The easiest thing to do is search Google Images and take whatever you find; but what about copyright and the original artist? As an aspiring designer I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due so hopefully others will give me the same respect. So here are the sites I like best for free images:

Open Clip Art Library

All images uploaded to the Open Clip Art Library are released to the public domain, so they are free for personal or commercial use. All images can be downloaded in .png or .svg format, so they are easily scalable to any size you might need. The quality is somewhat variable since it’s all volunteer contributions, but a lot of the images are incredible.

Unprofound.com

Free source of volunteer-contributed photography, released to the public domain so you can use it for any of your projects. You can’t redistribute the images, but they are free for use.

Flickr: Creative Commons

Flickr provides a way to easily browse images based on the Creative Commons license they were released under. They explain what the different licenses mean, so you can find attribution only images for all your projects, or some of the more restrictive licenses, like attribution, no derivatives, non-commercial. There are millions of images available, although the quality does vary somewhat since they are user-contributed. If you have some patience for browsing and trying a variety of keywords, you can typically find images that will work for your needs.

Icon Archive

I absolutely love icons and iconography. I think there’s genius in taking a complex idea and distilling it down to the simplest representation. I use icons any time I’m trying to convey a complex or abstract idea, but I’ll probably devote a whole post (or several) to this subject. Icon Archive has some wonderful, high quality icon sets, typically available in .png format. You should look closely at the icon set for the licensing though, as it varies depending on what the artist has specified. All images are free to download, but you should still check the licensing to make sure you’re respecting the rights of the creator.

I admit I’m not totally versed in intellectual copyright law, do any of you know some good resources to learn more? What are your favorite sites for images? I highlighted free sites here since I’m mostly a hobbyist, if you frequently use commercial stock images, what are the best sites for that?