A Designer vs. A Design App

There are two people in this world: those who love apps like Canva and Adobe Spark, and others who hate it. Okay, well, also a third category if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. But hey, you’re about to find out if you don’t know!

Some background info and fun facts.

Canva was made in 2012, and Adobe Spark created a similar concept in 2016. Both apps offer free and “pro” (with a cost) templates you can use to mix and add your own content. Canva has a variety of options for social media posts, presentations, flyers, business cards, and more. Honestly, I was shocked to see how much they can do. Adobe Spark is split into three different apps: one for graphics and posters, one for web design, and another for video. However, their website has it all in one place.

On Canva’s website they proudly state, “It only takes 23 seconds to learn.” These apps pride themselves in being speedy, both in learning and changing design elements—making it easy for anyone to create. So if it’s all so easy to make, then why am I still studying design?

On the left: Canva’s logo. On the right: Adobe Spark’s logo.

AI is not a designer. Humans are.

Some fancy AI might be quick about producing basic designs to exist on a company’s Instagram feed, but a human designer is able to see the bigger picture. We can create content that actually sparks an emotional reaction. We create brand identities. We can think outside of the box and create unique designs. These are all things AI will never be able to do. 

Who created this? Correct answer: Canva. I made no edits to this.
And who made this one? Adobe Spark Post (the app). I didn’t change anything to this (although I would like to…).

There is a right place, and a right time.

Apps like Canva and Adobe Spark have their place in the design world, or at least in the marketing/content creation aspect. Canva and Adobe Spark both have a way to upload your brand colors and logo to their app. This is a great solution to keep graphic designers from making that Instagram post needed in 15 minutes. Instead, someone else on the communications team can use the app to make something that works and will look okay. It won’t be the most unique content out there, but at least it will match the brand. Plus, it doesn’t distract the designer from some of their more important tasks.

Apps like these should never replace designers completely—and they never will. But it allows accessibility to small businesses, or individuals, who can’t afford a designer yet and need to get their message out there. It can help take some unnecessary pressure off of designers. Also, I like to think it brings awareness to why we need actual (human) designers.

Just don’t use these for a project in a design class, because you’ve got to let your own creativity shine (and you know, not cheat)!

Renovating the Kitchen Space

Back in 2017, the Cooper Hewitt design museum had an exhibit called Access + Ability. A product I came across is called the “Match Cooking Prep System”, which was designed by Amanda Savitzky in 2012.

Design credit: Amanda Savitzky. Found on: Cooper Hewitt. http://cprhw.tt/o/2Lpji8/

Honestly, my eye gravitated towards this product because of the fun colors. The product itself looked intriguing, and I wasn’t disappointed! Savitzky got inspired to design a solution that would help her brother, who is on the autism spectrum, feel more confident in the kitchen. As Savitzky described in this article, the kitchen is “a sensory-rich environment, and that can be a barrier for someone with autism.”

Amanda Savitzky took this problem and created a solution for it, instead of trying to fix the person. She analyzed what needed fixing in the environment itself, and what barriers her brother faced. Some solutions she came up with: each measuring cup has a comfortable and easy grip, and each cup is a different color and shape. The different shapes idea is great because it includes those who are color blind. Also, when you put a cup back, it makes a satisfying click sound to indicate it has been put in its proper place.

Everything has its place on the board, it’s very sequential going from bigger to smaller, and no one has to be confused on which cup is the 1/3 and which is the 1/4. It helps take away some of the chaotic elements of cooking, which can then hinder people living with developmental disabilities. Ultimately, this design helps establish a sense of independence as they gain confidence in the kitchen space and navigating it.

There are a lot of things done well here, but when looking at who might be excluded—I think it’s important to note the need of an iPad to get the full experience. Savitzky created an app that included recipes using the images of the Match cooking supplies. If a family doesn’t already own an iPad, then this could be an issue. Without one, there would be a learning curve and a reliance on the caregiver to translate recipes to use the Match measuring system.

The other unfortunate outcome is nothing like this is actually being sold. This product was a thesis project for Savitzky, and so far I’m not seeing this product or similar products out there. Perhaps there is an issue with this design I am not aware of, or I’m not looking in the right place to purchase this kind of item, but I think this is a step in the right direction for inclusive design. So why isn’t something like this being made?

Designing for a Better Future

Of course we’ll see where life takes me, but I really hope to find myself working for a publishing company or a museum. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s because I want to design things that teach people, or encourage them to learn more about, well, all things! And I want to learn more too.

One thing I’m trying to learn more about is how my designs can actually help the environment. I haven’t opened my own Etsy shop or something similar (yet). But if/when I do, I want to implement as many environmentally friendly, or rather human-saving, methods as I can.

I really appreciate it when small businesses I order from are re-using packaging, or they use packaging made from recycled materials. And they have a sticker on the packaging stating this AND that you can recycle it too! Yes, it may seem like such a small thing, but it makes the message clear. It shows this person cares, and they care enough to tell you.

This is something I’d like to do from an in-house design standpoint—if that’s where I end up. Okay, think of museums. There are so many different guide maps you can pick up when you walk in. Perhaps you can recycle those pamphlets, but I feel like I don’t know! Now imagine on the pamphlet, somewhere visible, there is a well designed mark saying you can recycle this. It would help this pamphlet not get tossed away into a trash bin by making a message more clear. And making messages stand out is one of our most important jobs as a graphic designer.

Yes, of course, the designer does need to check if this material actually is recyclable before putting any defining mark on it. If it turns out the material can’t be recycled, then perhaps add an icon or message encouraging people to take it home and use it for a scrapbook, or store it in a box of memories. I’m sure many do this already (at least I do), but it would still help to have encouragement from the organization itself. If the material can’t be recycled, then designers need to promote other ways for consumers to use this so the life of the product can at least be prolonged. Or better yet, get the organization to switch to recyclable material.

We also live in a digital world, so making sure a guide map exists in a digital format (and one that is easy to use…) would help a lot. Create signage that stands out so people know to use the digital guide! Make sure the process and interface isn’t overly complicated to use just a map/guide feature! Obviously it’s been a while since I’ve been inside a museum, but I do think more museums are starting to take this approach. But still, as designers, we must critically look at how the organizations we work for are impacting our future.

In interviews they normally ask at the end, “Do you have any questions for us?” And I’m wondering if I should be asking companies what environmental practices they are actively engaged in. Of course they could give some work-around answer like many do on their websites, but maybe it would still give me an idea for how much an organization cares.

I want to work towards a better future beyond my lifetime. I hope to do this through the organizations I am employed under, and by my impact in my designs. Design is often times seen as temporary (just think of all the re-brands we do). But I think we, as designers, have a responsibility to seek new solutions which make design last, not only in people’s minds, but to help our environment too.

An Annotation on “The Women Redressing the Gender Imbalance in Typography”

“The Women Redressing the Gender Imbalance in Typography” by Madeleine Morley.

Madeleine Morley is, according to her website, a design writer and editor who is from Berlin but currently based in London. Her writings can be found in a variety of well known magazines, including The Observer, Creative Review, Elephant Eye, and Dazed and Confused Magazine. She has held positions such as editor for magCulture and senior editor for AIGA’s Eye on Design. She has also held many lectures about design. Based on the amount of work and positions she’s held, her writings are definitely credible and is a good source.

In this article by Morley, she addresses the lack of women who are represented in the world of typography. Right away she gives us a stat about how at TypeCon in 2015 “there were 52 men speaking and 15 women.” She mentions how this probably stems from the ages of printing which was so heavily male dominated. Even with these inequalities, people have been addressing this, even in the 90s. In around 2016, at the time this article was written, Typographics and TypeCon made a better effort in getting more equality, and this change is due to the women leading onward in the industry. Morley first talks about how in 1994 the typeface Pussy Galore was born for Fuse magazine, which was part of the start in feminist typefaces addressing concerns of lack of visibility of women in typography. Morley also dives into why there is a lack of representation of women, quoting Verena Gerlach who says it’s because typography is considered more of a technical profession by people, and there is also a lack of role models for women to look up to and learn from. Another aspect is of course the media, and how media needs to not be lazy. Instead of interviewing the same people, they need to branch out and get more representation. The last section Morley talks about is the stereotyping with typography. The actual look and feel of serif fonts and sans serif fonts says a lot, and type designers need to be aware of what messages these convey.

Morley, Madeleine. “The Women Redressing the Gender Imbalance in Typography.” Eye on Design, AIGA, 28 Sept. 2016, eyeondesign.aiga.org/the-women-readdressing-the-gender-imbalance-in-typography/. 

An Annotation on “Typography’s Retort to Manspreading”

“Typography’s Retort to Manspreading” by Madeleine Morley

Madeleine Morley is, according to her website, a design writer and editor who is from Berlin but currently based in London. Her writings can be found in a variety of well known magazines, including The Observer, Creative Review, Elephant Eye, and Dazed and Confused Magazine. She has held positions such as editor for magCulture and senior editor for AIGA’s Eye on Design. She has also held many lectures about design. Based on the amount of work and positions she’s held, her writings are definitely credible and is a good source.

Morley is specifically talking about a specific typeface, called Good Girl, in this article. Good Girl is designed by Marion Bisserier in 2019, and it was designed in response to Bisserier finding out that although women and men are studying type design in relatively equal percentages, the percentage of women actually working for type foundries is much lower when looking at how many men work there. This typeface Bisserier designed takes up a lot of space so it can be noticed and stand out, bringing attention to the problem at hand. Bisserier called it Good Girl because it’s exactly the opposite and it isn’t polite. A tutor Bisserier had mentioned to her how typography has a tendency to stereotype, because you expect letters like n, h, or m. In her typeface, some letters do play into what you may expect as a viewer, but then she throws in surprises here and there that standout. Even though the topic is more intense, Bisserier didn’t want it to be and she purposefully made it more fun and playful which is why it looks more rounded and has that bubble look to it. Morley, in this interview, also asks Bisserier what this typeface should be used for. Her response is it’s meant to be a display font, something for messages or titles that need to stand out, and it doesn’t need to only be used for feminist messages. As far as font pairings go, Bisserier says a monospaced font would be best, or at least something subtle so it doesn’t take away from the attention grabbing Good Girl font.

Morley, Madeleine. “Typography’s Retort to Manspreading.” Eye on Design, AIGA, 22 July 2019, eyeondesign.aiga.org/typographys-retort-to-manpreading/. 

An Annotation on “Why Are “Feminist” Book Cover Designs Still So Sexist?”

“Why Are “Feminist” Book Cover Designs Still So Sexist?” by Meaghan Barry

Meaghan Barry is an associate professor of graphic design at Oakland University. In September of 2020, Barry was named Crain’s Detroit Business’ 2020 Notable Woman in Design. She co-founded Unsold Studio in 2013, which specializes in branding—both in consulting and strategy, as well as the actual design work. She has won a variety of awards, given many presentations, and has been in a number of exhibitions (check out the full list here.) With her high involvement in the design world, both in education and in the actual process of designing, I trust what she has to say and her analysis on aspects in design.

Barry starts off by pointing out a great fact: in 2010 many feminist novels were bestsellers, but their covers hardly ever won awards for best in design. This article then talks about how the covers of children’s books do a much better job at showing progress towards more inclusion and “equity, intersectionality, and empowerment” when compared to covers from adult novels. These covers for adults show the typical stereotypes of women—some examples include signs of weakness, a white woman, being bossy, or just flat out being dead. Whereas children’s books are featuring all different kinds of characters, and they appear in confident, self-assured poses. They also aren’t as gendering in their use of colors, iconography, and typography. The colors consist of more earth tones or “attention-grabbing”, when flowers are used they aren’t delicate flowers but instead ones that are bolder, and typography styles are bolder too in their weight, even if a calligraphy style is used. Barry goes on to describe how adult domestic noir novels utilize silhouettes, as if trying to depict the woman could be you, the reader, but still they too strongly resemble white women. In feminist dystopian novels, there’s a lot of focus on the body and the color red, which represents weakness likes passion, power, and blood to cisgender women, in covers. When it comes to nonfiction titles, Barry notices these covers are more bold and masculine in their approach, but still they use serif typefaces to have a softer tone because it appears more strictly academic. In the end, Barry states we need to start seeing more cover designs follow after those of children’s books: being bold, more inclusive, and confident. 

Barry, Meaghan. “Why Are ‘Feminist’ Book Cover Designs Still So Sexist?” Eye on Design, AIGA, 10 Dec. 2018, eyeondesign.aiga.org/why-are-even-feminist-book-cover-designs-still-so-sexist/. 

An Annotation on “The Feminist Findings Zine Uncovers Forgotten Histories of Feminist Publishing”

“The Feminist Findings Zine Uncovers Forgotten Histories of Feminist Publishing” by Ritupriya Basu.

Basu, according to her “About” page on her online portfolio, is a writer and design researcher/analyst/enthusiast located in India. Her work has been featured in many respectable publications (some online and some physical publications), including: Platform Magazine, SOFA, AIGA Eye on Design, and Intern Magazine. On her LinkedIn page it states she received a Bachelor of Design in Fashion Communication from Symbiosis Institute of Design. She’s written a lot about design, and has quite an extensive portfolio of articles, so she definitely has a good sense of concept and what to write about. I find her pretty trustworthy to uncover and talk us through design discoveries and featuring the work of others.

In this article for AIGA Eye on Design, Basu talks about the zine Feminist Findings, and how this zine goes through the history of early 20th century periodicals. This zine, and its articles and essays, was created by 26 womxn and non-binary people, through a group called Liberation in Print (L.i.P for short) Collective. Basu explains this group formed in the beginning of the pandemic, and it was “initiated by le Signe the National du Graphisme in Chaumont, France”. This project is also the first project of Futuress, which is a community created by the mentors from the workshop, Corin Gisel and Nina Paim. Each member of L.i.P researched a feminist periodical, then shared it with the group. They created this zine from their research, which they got from digital archives. This process of doing research remotely proved to be mostly okay, except the lack of not being able to go into a physical space like a library proved to be difficult when trying to include publications from marginalized people. Not only are there fewer publications because of a lack of these being archived, but a lot of them aren’t archived in a digital way. When designing the actual zine, each member of the collective designed their own spread to show off their research, and the different typefaces used were designed specifically by womxn. The research is also shown in an exhibition in A-Z in Berlin.

Basu, Ritupriya. “The Feminist Findings Zine Uncovers Forgotten Histories of Feminist Publishing.” Eye on Design, AIGA, 15 Sept. 2020, eyeondesign.aiga.org/the-feminist-findings-zine-uncovers-forgotten-histories-of-feminist-publishing/.

The Big 3: Social Media, Design, and Politics

Design holds a lot of power. It influences all of us, and if you think design or advertisements don’t influence you—please think again. I see design from both points of view: as someone who designs things and as a viewer, an audience member to the spectacle.

The political decisions we make also contain a lot of power. And design is one of those things which helps influence our political decisions. As a graphic designer, I don’t see myself designing a political campaign, but design in politics doesn’t explicitly mean designing for candidates. Something I’ve been seeing a lot of, especially on Instagram, are political messages in the form of graphics or digital illustrations.

Credit to @soyouwanttotalkabout on Instagram // https://www.instagram.com/p/CI8l8g4lom1/

Some statements are more bipartisan, filled with information everyone should know. Other designs have a very specific goal. These types of political design statements can have a lot of impact. If these posts are shared over and over, then the message gets spread further as more people look at it. This is great when creating awareness, or trying to promote change and activism. 

Credit to @kimsaira on Instagram // https://www.instagram.com/p/CH1ME3PhNL5/

However, it should be noted these posts are only impactful if information is given—and accurate, and if viewers are inspired to take action. There is a certain element of performative activism with these posts, more so if created by a white person in order to make money and receive attention by being “on trend”. As a viewer, I’ve seen more good come from these posts, including actual activism taking place from the creator. As a designer, one particular critique I have is the similarity between posts. There’s a lot of mimicking happening as one style trend takes off, and that’s never fun to see because it makes all the posts blend together.

Even though I haven’t worked on any explicitly political designs, I could see myself creating awareness for progressive messages to encourage more people to think. When I think about my own design philosophy or mantra, I want to design for the betterment of society. I want to put design into the world that impacts people in an encouraging way to take action, to think critically, and also to imagine. It’s why I see myself working for a museum, a publishing company, or perhaps in education one day. Those lines of work, particularly with publishing, have political elements to them—because in publishing there’s a decision process in what gets published and how it gets marketed.

In design, we think a lot about what we want to stand behind, and as a designer that means we also have to remain aware of what messages our designs convey. I hope to look at my own work through a critical lens as a designer and viewer, so I know what messages I am putting out into the world. I don’t want to be a passive voice, getting lost in the mix—I want to propel us forward into a better world than what I grew up in.

Jetting Into a New Logo

As the weather outside gets colder, it means the drinks inside get warmer. As a kid, that meant hot chocolate time! It wasn’t quite like the hot chocolate experience in The Polar Express, but making a cup of hot chocolate with my mom meant getting one of my favorite things: marshmallows.

Marshmallows are a clear staple (and excellent to eat while you wait for the milk to heat up), and in my house we always had Jet-Puffed marshmallows. So when my Mom brought home from the store a new bag this December, my eye immediately noticed the new packaging and logo.


Image on left from heb.com // Image on right is taken by Natalie Harris

Before August of 2020, 1987 was the last time the logo was revamped from its 1958 original design. The 1987-2020 packaging is what I remember sitting in my cabinet next to the hot chocolate powder. But this new branding, by the agency, Jones Knowles Ritchie, is a lot more memorable, and I believe has the ability to last the KraftHeinz company another 33 years—at least.

On the agency’s website, they mention their “challenge was to transform the pantry staple from stale sleeper into puffy market icon.” You can really see how they managed to make Jet-Puffed stand out by making alterations to the brand’s color palette and changing the look of the logo. The new colors really add to a playful approach because it is reminiscent of a rainbow. People associate rainbows with children (or perhaps Irish folklore) because of this whimsical, magical element, and ultimately that’s what this new branding really portrays. But here’s what is so great about the new logo and branding: yes it’s all around cute, but not just in a cute way for kids—it’s something that captures the attention of an adult too.

What’s interesting about marshmallows is it’s a product kids really enjoy, but the adults are typically the ones picking this out. This is of course typical for all things, but I can’t recall any sort of advertisement for marshmallows, especially one geared directly towards kids. This is a product that needs the attention of adults, but also the kid appeal, so it can’t be too overwhelming or cheesy, but it can’t be plain and dull. Along with their brightened, but not too bright, color scheme, Jet-Puffed found another great solution. They introduced the Puff Pals: cute, 2D illustrations of marshmallows.


Image from Brand New (underconsideration.com)

KraftHeinz says their purpose is to “spark joy, bring people together, and create memorable moments for people across the globe.” From what I’ve seen so far, Puff Pals are always together showcasing happy moments. They also appear all together in this surprisingly delightful new advertisement video. The Puff Pals spark joy, whether you’re a kid or adult (I think the 2-D element helps with this), and I can totally get behind that.

So even though this packaging fits in more with the KraftHeinz ultimate goal, Jones Knowles Ritchie ultimately took the Kraft logo off the front of the bag. Taking another look at the 1987 packaging, the Kraft logo takes attention away from the Jet-Puffed name and logo. Yes, Kraft itself is a well known brand name, but we’re just here for the marshmallows! The Puff Pals are a selling point alone!


Logos belong to their original creators.

Honestly, the new 2020 packaging just feels more marshmallow-like, especially when looking at the 1987 logo. The previous one I grew up with seems so much more “mature” than this new one. The colors are more dull, and there’s nothing engaging about it besides how the logo kinda looks like marshmallows. It is clever the way they achieved this with the shadows, shading, and outlines, but when we look at it next to this new and improved logo type, the old one seems almost “busy”. The 2020 typeface does a much cleaner job at delivering the same outcome. They were able to get rid of the extra shading and instead focus on the roundness and width of each of the letters. Making each letter that pure white was also smart because it looks more like a marshmallow. Each letter looks soft, as if you could hug them—or more appropriately, drop one into your cup of hot cocoa.

In today’s design world, we are seeing a lot of brands turn towards this simplified, modern approach. This decision is sometimes a flop, but in the case of Jet-Puffed: I think they added and subtracted just the right amount. They didn’t take out shadows and outlines to appeal to modernity, instead they found a way to take something new and make it seem nostalgic already. Let’s just say I really hope this packaging is in my cabinet, sitting next to my hot chocolate powder, 33 years from now. 

What’s Hot and Cold?

As much as I’d love to talk about the classic kid’s game of hot and cold as you get closer to something. Or to distinguish what hot and cold drinks I like more, or what a hot and cold house temperature is. Today I want to talk a bit about Marshall Mcluhan’s theory of hot and cold in terms of media.

To Mcluhan, hot media meant that you could be passive when engaging with it. Mcluhan was discussing media around the 60s, so to him radio was “hot” because it meant it could act as background noise. On the opposite scale, cold media was something a listener or audience really had to engage with and participate in. Cold media demanded your attention a lot more than hot media did.

Marshall Mcluhan says that TV is cold because it requires more participation from the audience. In today’s world, I think Mcluhan would find that this has clearly switched. I think this switch had to occur when streaming services became a thing, and also when the quality in tv shows increased.

In the 60s, TV was very low definition, and films/movies were in higher quality, which is why Mcluhan labeled films as hot. In today’s TV realm, so many episodes look like movies. Some even practically are movies with their duration! Think of Downton Abbey, or Bridgerton (which is popular on Netflix currently). Both of these shows have about hour long episodes, and are very cinematic in the way each shot is captured, and the details in sets and costumes.

And this isn’t even all the different streaming platforms to pick from! / Source: https://bit.ly/3sk4LH5

We also no longer have to wait for a TV show to air live, which I think is another interactive quality of TV shows in the 60s. In today’s world, we have the ability to watch an episode over and over again, thanks to all the various streaming services, and shows will come out with a full season at once. Because of this, we are able to engage with TV shows in a very passive manner. There are so many times where I have watched TV while doing other things because I don’t have to be looking at the show the entire time. It really sometimes is just background noise, which is how Mcluhan referenced film. 

Mcluhan brought about really great theories when it comes to how we think about media, and how media helps deliver these messages we are trying to convey. As a designer, it’s something I want to think about more as I journey into the workplace environment. However, I would argue that we are all analyzing media, to some extent, like Mcluhan did, in our everyday lives. Perhaps this is just the designer in me, but I think about the tone a lot with social media. People engage with text a lot differently than they do with video, which changes the way I spread information. The hot and cold theory is an interesting way to frame how we’re engaging with media, and it should still be talked about today.