Thursday, July 19, 2012

Work-in-Progress: Minimalist Dinosaur Badges

There are plenty of well-worn reasons stated for love of dinosaurs. The appeal of the monstrous. The scientific curiosity. The romance of a world lost to time. Simple nostalgia. I can relate to all of these (and I'm sure there are more), but one that I think is just as important to me is the elegance of their forms. This may be particularly clear in dinosaurs since I know them primarily through graphic depictions. Skeletals, scale diagrams, cladograms, and illustrations that span a spectrum of realism are how we know dinosaurs (not to mention the many ways fossils themselves have been depicted as printing and visualization technologies have evolved).

As a designer and illustrator, dinosaurs give me a wonderfully varied playground in which to play. My current explorations involve distilling forms to potent simple shapes, and here again dinosaurs provide me excellent material to play with. My primary tool is the pen tool in Adobe illustrator, which allows users to use B├ęzier curves to create scalable shapes. When I first started using the computer for graphics, the pen tool mystified me. At some point in the last five years or so, it just clicked, and now I use it so much that I occasionally daydream about creating curves. I find it to be an endlessly rewarding challenge to create shapes using the least number of points to define them.

I've been exploring this in dinosaurs, combining a long-gestating interest in heraldry with the international style of graphic design. The international style is seen as too minimalist, too constricting, too boring by a lot of people, but I find it to be a fruitful source of inspiration, even if I don't bind myself strictly to it. After my experience of designing author-directed covers self-published book over the last four years, I find it liberating to be able to dispatch with the design excesses I was often instructed to use. I think of this phase of my development as a designer as finding my own style and voice by experimenting with iconic styles. Here's a work-in-progress sample of where my explorations have been leading me.

Minimalist Dino Badges

I plan on covering all of the -idae level clades. I'm also considering nesting them under corresponding marks for higher clades. This opens the possibility of using color as an organization scheme (the color here is chosen for looks alone). Right now, I don't have an end goal, other than a nice big collection of colorful badges with dinosaurs on them. It's fun simply to think about the distinctive forms of various clades and find ways to distill them. How much detail is thrown out before losing the essence of the form? I'd love to see this develop into something that can truly communicate paleontological knowledge, but even if it just ends up being a personal project, I think it will be fruitful. It could be expressed as embroidered patches, as screenprints, or as one element of a larger project. I don't know yet, and that's what's exciting.

This has also been an experiment in inviting feedback via various social networks. I've found that it's all about Facebook for me, with Flickr in distant second, Twitter behind that, and Google Plus a waste of time. It's an interesting result. I certainly don't try to put more work into Facebook, and it's not my preferred venue, but if it works, it works. I'd love to say that G+ was the winner, but it just doesn't have the traction yet. Now it will be fun to see how sharing it here will go over. Have at it!


  1. I love this! I really hope you do more and I promise to be your bestest friend in the whole wide room (and give you a Snickers bar!) if you do the ankylosauridae. Childhood favorite, yeah :)

  2. Thanks! I'll definitely get there, likely using the tail club as the icon. I also plan on using thagomizer-and-butt for stegosaurs.

  3. You already covered my favorite dinosaur with the Hadrosauridae. I really dig your art. I've also found Google+ to be an absolute waste of time for me. I have numerous friends and circles, yet whenever I check it all I see is that one person posts regularly and the rest not at all. I'd like to use something other than Facebook, but I'd like to believe I'm talking to more than one person when I post.

  4. Lovely graphics. I'm a fan of seeing how little information you can use and still effectively communicate your message (altho' I expressed this by designing minimalist fonts and some logos). Think you might have hit the limit with Diplodocidae!

    I like the idea of using colour to indicate relationships but you'll need to extend your palette beyond what you've used so far. Hot colours for theropods with browns for omnivorous ones, greys and tints for sauropods, and cool greens and blues for Ornithischians. I presume that you'll be excluding avian dinos?


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