Looking for the Perfect Beat – CMYK Edition T shirt and Art Print

Looking for the Perfect Beat – CMYK Edition T shirt and Art Print

The Universal Chemical Elements of the Human Body T shirt

The Universal Chemical Elements of the Human Body T shirt

Track 56: The Universal Chemical Elements of the Human Body

What are we made of?
What are the elements that make up the human body?

The first question sounds a little metaphorical and will probably be addressed sometime in the future. But for now, the latest uchi track addresses the physical, or, more accurately, the chemical. I’m a science geek and a T shirt showing the chemical elements that make up the human body has been on the back burner of my mind for some time. It felt right to follow the last uchi T-shirt “Stereotype” with another typography design – contrasting, but also related. Think of it as the B Side to Stereotype.

The Brief

A T-shirt displaying the chemical elements of the human body.

The research

A bunch of stats from various academic websites to get the elements as well as each element’s mass (all with slightly varying approximations). I’ve since learnt that the exact amounts vary from person to person.

The design process

So how do you display the elements of the human body in a simplistic design? A graphical, infographic design? Maybe a pie chart or graph? Following on from ‘Stereotype‘, I thought “simple is best” and decided to rely solely on text and my typographical training to communicate the idea.

I wanted the names of each element to be printed in proportion to each other’s relative size. But this proved problematic, in terms of both design and print.

I’ve got about 99 elements but gold isn’t one of them

The human body is composed of 11 main elements, with six of these (oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus) making up almost 99% of us. In fact we’re all mostly oxygen (65%), carbon (18%) and hydrogen (10%). The other eight elements that are vital to life, include calcium, potassium and molybdenum. But they amount to such small amounts, that by the time you reach magnesium (0.1%) the text would be unreadable on a T-shirt.

So I ditched the ratio idea in favour of a more aesthetically pleasing design. Starting with oxygen and ending with tin, each element’s representation would be slightly smaller than the one before it. I liked it. However, though simple, it wasn’t technically accurate. That was because the order of the trace elements was determined by the size of the word representing them – not by their mass. This bugged me.

Despite this, I was satisfied enough to show it to a couple of friends. Based on their well-rounded criticism (and approval), I thought about the challenge some more; that was when the ‘food label’ idea hit me.

Imagine a food ingredients label listing the constituents – the ‘ingredients’ of us. Clever and intelligent, I thought. I’ve typeset hundreds of food and drug labels in my time. So again, this should be easy enough.

Ingredients of the human body

Track 56 - Helvetica

Once the ingredients label design was finished, I still wasn’t entirely happy. Composition wise, everything was fine. All the relevant information was there and nothing more. Plus, the ingredients label premise allowed me to add a couple of extra touches that worked.

I’d used Helvetica Condensed for the ‘Stereotype’ T shirt, so it seemed right to use the same typeface on the B-side. However, at the last minute I decided to revisit my phototypesetting roots and changed the typeface from Helvetica to Univers. In doing so, I realised what had been bugging me.

About the Univers Typeface family

The Univers typeface family was developed by Adrian Frutiger for the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot. Like Helvetica, it’s based on the 1898 Akzidenz-Grotesk typeface family. However, it lacks Helvetica’s superfluous features and has a more uniform stroke and balance that makes it a perfect typeface for tabular data and forms. Univers also has cleaner lines and better legibility at great distances. On it’s release in 1957, the marketing for Univers deliberately referenced the periodic table to emphasise its scope.

Though its popularity peaked in the 60s and 70s, Univers is stll widely used. Past and present corporate IDs using it include those of General Electric, Deutsche Bank and eBay, while Audi uses a modified version of Univers called Audi Sans. Apple keyboard key-caps before 2003, Ordnance Survey maps, a host of transport systems (including Frankfurt International Airport) and Walt Disney World, are among many other high-profile users.

So, pun intended, Univers was the perfect universal typeface choice for a universal design.

What to do when you realise your idea isn’t new

What to do when you realise your idea isn’t new

For a while I’ve had an in the back of my mind an idea for a T shirt design. Many ideas roll around for months, sometimes years before they get dealt with. This is normal. Most of them never manifest into anything. This particular idea was pushed to the front of my mind by various events connected to my last project, the Stereotype T shirt. So, it felt like the right time to do it.

As it was now at the front of my mind, more ideas where coming thick and fast. It was a “now or never” type situation. I now had some solid thoughts on how it could be executed. If it’s not done now, it will slip back to the recesses that will only be used as reference for a future design at a later time. You don’t want to sleep on these moments of creativity and loose the urgency. It’s like waking from a profound dream and not writing shit down. You know it will all be forgotten by midday and only vague recollections will remain.

Like a pen and pad next to the bed, over the next few days I produced something I was happy with. I asked a couple of people for opinions, initial thoughts. Based on some feedback and with the original conception still front of mind, it was revised and improved. Two days later I was confidently sending the finished artwork off to be printed the following week. With more than a week before it would actually be produced, I had time.

I produced a mock up of the design on a T shirt and it was now online for sale.  I wrote a blog – The idea behind the T shirt design; the research, background information, the process and the problems I encountered whilst working on it. I had time even to send the blog to a copywriter friend of mine for critical analysis.

Don’t believe your hype

A few days later,  I was still waiting for feedback on my blog which, I believed to be about a fairly original T shirt design. There’s little point in writing for the web without doing doing some research, better late than never, so I decided to check what Google was saying. I searched the title of my blog. To my disappointment, I found a bunch of T shirts with ‘my original idea’.  After my initial disappointment, the next reaction was, “I’m going to have to contact my printers and tell them to stop”, followed by more disappointment. Then, “I’ve just spent hours of work for nothing” – more disappointment and now, frustration. “And, I spent hours writing a blog about this!”. “People will think I just copied someone else’s idea!” .

And then I had a realisation. My ego and naivety believed it had an original idea. On reflection, I should have known better – especially with such an obvious subject matter. This isn’t the first time I’ve done something that I thought was unique, only to find it already out in the world, in a similar guise. I rarely take the time to look around to see if an idea has already been done. If I do, most of the time, if the subject matter is important enough, I will try and do it better. If it isn’t, I just won’t do it at all.

Believe your hype

Should I research more before I commit to a design that I feel is unique? Or, should I discover it for my self with no distractions? The most important thing is, I know why I did it. My ego and naivety created this because I wanted to express something through uchi. I didn’t need other designs to influence if and how I should do it.

Google “Elements of the Human Body T shirt” and you’ll find plenty of nice and and some just decent variations.
I’m glad I didn’t stick with the first idea I had. I’m pleased I didn’t notice what others had done. I simply wanted to create an ‘uchi’ T shirt featuring the elements of the human body, and so, that’s what I did.

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