Jan 122018

There's been a lot of talk about filter bubbles and echo chambers lately, but these don't just apply to politics and online: anybody can become stuck in an echo chamber – and that includes artists. If you were surprised by Brexit, or the US presidential elections, then you'll know first-hand the limiting effects of being surrounded by those who share the same views as you.

"It's a problem that impacts artists with different severity," says concept artist and illustrator Carmen Sinek. "Some people know what they like and are happy doing just that. Others lock themselves into a certain style early, for the sake of pursuing a career with a certain company or genre."

The more personalised our online experiences become, the more segregated and siloed our views

It usually happens, Sinek says, when artists start focusing on the product instead of the process. "They set out with a goal in mind – working for this company, or emulating that artist – and slowly begin to build their art education around it. 

"If an artist wants to work for Magic: The Gathering, they might follow Magic artists online. The tutorials they see and resources they pick up, such as digital brushes, will likely be used by those who work within Magic's semi-realistic style range. They build a social media echo chamber around a very small part of the art community, and it becomes more difficult to move outside of it."

The risks of living in a bubble

Fantasy art portrait of a woman surrounded by butterflies

Monarch, by Carmen Sinek. "Experiment" is her advice for steering clear of art bubbles.

At an industry level, one of the most immediate consequences of this is artistic homogenisation. For a while, many big video games and films had very similar aesthetics, points out Sinek. "Year after year, waves of students came out of the top art schools with extremely similar styles and design tastes," she says.

At an artist level, the consequences can be more harmful. Restricting your creative range can lead to dissatisfaction and depression – and limiting your views can be even more destructive. "I've seen too many artists clinging to harmful views on sexism and diversity," says art director Paul Canavan, "ignoring valid criticism from the affected parties and making the industry less appealing for many people.

"On a strictly artistic level, there are also a number of artists, mostly students or those relatively new to the industry, who decry the use of photos, 3D or any other 'non-traditional' techniques in illustration or concept art work, and take it upon themselves to spread this weird message around social media forums. I think subscribing to that elitist mentality is pretty harmful, and it's a place that I will try to engage in discussion."

Breaking the bubble

Game artwork featuring close combat

Paul Canavan designed this game artwork, Moving Hazard, to encourage "mini narratives": smaller areas that work as standalone images.

So why are filter bubbles so tough to pop? The reasons are three-fold: first, you might not realise you've fallen into a bubble. Second, social media is built upon the idea of 'following' people whose work or perspective you like. And third, when you're doing a lot online, algorithmic filtering serves to reinforce your preferences on the basis of past choices of online content. 

The more personalised our online experiences become, the more segregated and siloed our views. 

"The result is an automated population of news feeds, search results and so on, with content automatically selected if deemed as in keeping with those previously recorded choices," explains media and communications expert Dr Dan Mercea, who's a senior lecturer in sociology at City University London.

However, as Mercea points out, it's not all bad: the more diverse those choices, the greater the variety of filtered content. "The algorithm will adjust itself as it tracks our surfing histories, so the filtering becomes more intricate as we make more information available about our preferences. So if we expose ourselves to diversity, the algorithm will reflect this choice – at least temporarily."

And it's the same in real life. Beating a bubble can be as simple as watching a video or reading a blog from someone with a different opinion, says illustrator Jason Rainville.

"There's a difference between living in a bubble and being confident of your point of view, though. And you don't want to be so open-minded that your brain falls out," Rainville says.

Do something different 

Photo collage of Star Trek characters old and new

This Star Trek character collage was created by Jason Rainville for Disruptor Beam's mobile game Star Trek: Timelines.

Sinek agrees that doing something outside your comfort zone is a good way to pop a creative bubble. "Dig out your art history book and start going through it, or enroll in an art history class somewhere. Find a place to learn where you will be exposed to a wide variety of artistic movements and styles, not just the ones you pick to research on your own."

"Be open to different opinions and encourage dialogue," adds Canavan. "There are a ton of controversial, oft-debated topics around the art community. Getting involved, sharing your opinion and trying to take something away from every encounter is super healthy."

And that's the point: there's a difference between being part of a community and being stuck in a bubble. Debate, discussion and the exchange of ideas can propel your practice to new levels.

"There's something to be said for surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can push the sort of content you enjoy into your eyeballs every day and a sense of community into your life," reasons Canavan. "In an industry where many of us work remotely, that can really help."

This article was originally published in issue 154 of ImagineFX, the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists – packed with workshops and interviews with fantasy and sci-fi artists, plus must-have kit reviews. Buy issue 154 here or subscribe to ImagineFX here.

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Jan 122018

Is it really 2018 already? It seems like only yesterday we were looking forwards to all of the opportunities and design trends that 2017 had to offer. In a year that will be remembered in terms of design for its retro fonts and advances in VR, there were also plenty of rebrands and new logos to enjoy.

One person who knows all about branding is Armin Vit, the design doyen over at Brand New. Popular for his coverage of all the latest brand identity work, Vit recently compiled a retrospective of the best and worst branding efforts of 2017. We've rounded up five of the best and five of the worst entries from his review below, but for the full list be sure to head over to his site.

Because we're kind folk here, we'll kick off with a look at the best pieces of branding from 2017 (if you're not as saintly, you can skip to the worst here).

The best brand identities of 2017

01. SŽDC

SZDC logo

This clever rebrand ties together the company name and its service

Chances are you haven't heard of the Czech administration SŽDC, and even less likely are the odds that you'll be able to pronounce its name – Správa železniční dopravní cesty – correctly. In English it translates as Railway Structure Administration, and simplifying the name and message of the organisation was the aim of this rebrand.

Amazingly, this clear logo accomplishes both of these aims with ease. Designed by Prague-based studio Marvil, the orange logo plays on the similarity between the letter Ž and three parallel railway tracks linked by a railroad switch. Meanwhile, the letter Ž acts as a tidy abbreviation for Železnice, which means Railway in Czech.

"Using the diacritic over the “Z” in the company’s name to create an overhead view of a railway switch is very clever. And that livery… swoon," writes Vit.

The monogram is both distinctive and authoritative, plus it looks set to work across posters, uniforms, documents and online platforms with ease. What more could you want from a rebrand?

02. Misfit

Misfit logo

Misfit's new identity celebrates oddballs 

Did you know that over 20 billion lbs of fruits and vegetables go unharvested or unsold every year in the US? Neither did we. But one company that did is Misfit. Established in 2014, Misfit used fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste to create its range of cold-pressed juices.

For its rebrand, Misfit turned to NY-based studio Gander. Whereas Misfit's old logo was a fairly straight laced affair of uninspiring, blocky typography, the new version has a goofy sense of humour without becoming overbearing, which echoes the misshapen ingredients. "Ugly never looked so good," writes Vit.

"We created an identity that challenges beauty standards and glorifies the oddballs," Gander told Brand New. "Through illustration, photography and web design, we were able to tell Misfit’s story and educate consumers in a way that was fun and approachable."

03. Mozilla

Mozilla logo variations

Mozilla shared every step of its rebrand online

Global nonprofit organisation Mozilla has been dedicated to making the web better since 1998 thanks to its open source products and open standards. So when it came to a rebrand, it made sense that Mozilla would team up with the equally altruistic Johnson Banks.

Not only were Mozilla and Johnson Banks a good match in terms of ethics, they're both a little madcap. To tie into Mozilla's open source services, Johnson Banks followed suit and decided to do its rebranding work in public by sharing every step of the process.

It's just as well that the design was strong enough to hold up to the scrutiny. Complete with typography that nods to URL language and a diverse range of colourful alternatives to help it stand out, Mozilla's makeover has truly earned its place as one of 2017's best logos and brand identities.

04. Ugly Drinks

Ugly logo

Ugly Drinks provide a healthy alternative to sugary fizzy drinks

"Healthy doesn't have to be boring," that's how independent design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie approached this rebrand for Ugly Drinks. Set up in 2016, Ugly Drinks aims to provide a healthy alternative to the familiar sugary soft drinks that currently dominate UK shops.

Whereas the company's previous look focussed on the ugly angle – complete with a deliberately clunky typeface – this new design packs more of an attitude. With the letter "U" shaped like a slurping tongue, Ugly Drinks now has a stylish wordmark to help it stand out from the crowd.

"The overall design of this is fantastic and, what’s better, it’s fueled by a great sense of humour," says Vit.

The flexible piece of type design looks great either on its own or paired with a range of fruit icons to create cheeky characters. Ugly Drinks co-founder Hugh Thomas hopes that this identity will help define the brand and turn it into something people will be happy to be seen with. 

05. Chobani

Chobani logo variations

Chobani's new logo evokes a luxurious taste sensation

Greek yoghurt company Chobani has come a long way since it was launched in 2007. In 2012 it was the official sponsor of the US Olympic Team, and in 2017, Chobani decided a brand refresh was in order.

Designed in-house and led by chief creative officer Leland Maschmeyer, the new typographic logo does a much better job than the previous design when it comes to communicating a rich, sensuous sensation, which makes the rebrand a much better fit for the product.

Vit himself is a huge fan of the design. "I think it is literally and absolutely perfect not just in execution but in representing the product," he explains. "The green colour is unexpected but it looks stunning on the typography and more so in the packaging."

Now that we've covered the best brands of 2017, it's time for the dishonourable mentions as we look at the worst identities the year had to offer.

The worst brand identities of 2017

01. General Mills

General Mills 2017 logo

General Mills' heart logo isn't getting a lot of love

This update to the branding of global food company General Mills is all about "telling the General Mills story thoughtfully, proactively and consistently," according to a blog post in the wake of its new logo launch.

It went on to add: "With our newest logo, the familiar “Big G” continues to exemplify strength, longevity and trust – and now love." Pass us the sick bag...

It's this schmaltzy lovey-dovey message from a corporate super-entity that left Vit cold when it came to this rebrand. And even though he admits that graphically it's not the worst design in the world, the heart just comes across as insincere and lazy. We're definitely getting shades of 'Big Brother loves you' here. Very dystopian.

02. Skype

Skype logo

Designers got pretty hung up on Skype's new logo

You know what Skype is. Established in 2003, the instant messaging app became the go-to way for millions of people to communicate online thanks to its text message and video chat services. Its new logo, though, was less well received.

So where did the Skype rebrand go wrong? For starters, the previous wordmarks-in-bubbles logo at least had originality and was recognisable. This new version looks dangerously generic.

Vit puts this at the feet of a merger with Microsoft that was completed in 2011. This might help the tech giant to tie in Skype's look with the rest of its software, but it's a move that does nothing to improve or build on Skype's image. As Vit writes, "it's aligned with the Microsoft brand architecture, which no logo asked for ever."

03. City of Vancouver

City of Vancouver logo

Is there enough going on here to qualify this as a logo?

This logo for the City of Vancouver Government Administration is very much a case of "you get what you pay for". The mystery firm behind this brand design was chosen for its low low prices... and it shows.

When it came to judging this rebrand, Vit is at least firm but fair when he points out that this design isn't meant to be an all-singing, all-dancing piece of typography to attract tourists. This is a governmental logo. But does that mean it can get away with being this boring?

Vit admits that at least the typographer seems to know what they're doing, as all the alignment sits correctly. However there's no getting away from just how inconsequential this rebrand looks, or as Vit puts it, "this is insanely bland. It makes Scranton, PA, sound exciting." Quite.

04. AXIS Dance Company

Axis Dance Company

Is this logo too heavy handed?

We find ourselves disagreeing with Vit when it comes to this logo for integrated contemporary dance company, AXIS. Or, if not disagreeing, not finding ourselves as offended by this rebrand.

Created to celebrate the company's 30-year anniversary, AXIS' colourful new wordmark is inspired by fluid dance moves. It's a sound enough concept, so where does it go wrong?

"The new logo is a conceptual and formal abomination," says Vit. He goes on to lay into the wordmark's lack of motion, elegance and energy. As far as he's concerned, the gradients only serve to add insult to injury and highlight how cheap and vacuous the logo is. Ok, Vit, tell us what you really think...

In his defence though, Vit only has an issue with the logo, not the company itself. "The main reason I’m coming down so hard on this is because this organisation and its dancers deserve something so much better that properly reflects what they do, the challenges they are able to overcome, and the beauty of movement they are able to create," he explains.

05. Redbox

Redbox logo

Bad kerning, distressing colours... yuck!

In an age of Netflix binge watching, it's good to see Redbox is still flying the flag for good old DVD and video game rentals. What's less good to see is its new logo.

On the surface you might be put off by the purple period, but look close and this logo gets even worse. First of all there are clumsy slabs, then there's the wonky 'e', and finally the kerning is so tight that the pairing of "d" and "b" look a little too phallic for their own good. As Vit says, it's "painfully amateurish and unappealing".

Vit notes that many of his Twitter followers read it as 'Redbax' due to the too-tight spacing. "I saw this as a sign that they don’t treat their brand seriously enough," he says of Redbox.

Topping off the rebrand is the smug tagline "so smarter". Smarter than what, exactly? Streaming films and games online? We're not convinced.

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Jan 122018

With plenty of new web design tools coming onto the market each day, it's difficult to know what's worth your time. As a result, it's tempting for studios and freelancers to just keep using the same tools and processes, rather than exploring something new. 

However, pick the right tool and it could totally revolutionise your workflow. In this post, seven top web professionals share the tools that changed their working lives in 2017. Why not give them a go this year?

01. React Native

React Native logo

It's not just a web view wrapper

React Native is a framework for building native apps using React. It's in active development, with Facebook pushing a new release each month. Its use of modern tooling (such as the latest version of JavaScript), as well as features such as hot reloading, made it a standout tool for Shane Osbourne, lead frontend developer at JH

"90 per cent of the code is shared across the iOS and Android platform – there are just a handful of situations in which platform-specific components are needed," he explains. "And it’s not just a web view wrapper: React Native gives higher performance and tighter integration with the host platform than other tools."

02. Toggl

Toggl screenshot says Track Budget Negotiations

Time-tracking apps can have all kinds of hidden benefits

While time-tracking apps, such as Toggl, are handy for monitoring time worked in order to figure out client fees, they really come into their own when you use them to monitor your own working patterns.

"I’ve used time-tracking tools inconsistently in the past, [but] never as a tool to monitor my own time, which looking back now seems like a rookie mistake," explains BudAffect co-founder Jamie Murphy. "Using Toggl properly in 2017 has been by far the biggest benefit for me. Thanks to tracking everything I do, I’m much more aware of how long admin tasks such as accounts, invoices and so on take and am able to better plan around them."

This approach also has the benefit of helping you see the balance of profits made versus time taken, so you can identify the most time-consuming, unprofitable forms of income, and re-evaluate their role in your business.

03. Toby

Screenshot of browser with clear tabs

Tidy browser; tidy mind

Are you looking at hundreds of tiny distracting tabs at the top of your browser? Then this is a useful tool for you. "As a habitual over-user of tabs, this year I discovered the Chrome extension Toby, which is a way to create collections of links, as an alternative to individual bookmarks," says digital transformation consultant Sally Lait. "I’m not entirely cured of ‘tab-itis’, but it’s definitely helping."

04. Wacom Cintiq 22HD interactive monitor

Wacom Cintiq 22HD interactive monitor

Shortcut keys on the Wacom Cintiq 22HD save a lot of time, says Flow creative director Karl Doran

Let's not forget about hardware. Last year saw some great new creative gadgetry entering the market (take a look at our roundup of the top new tech for designers to see for yourself). The right kit can transform your workflow, as the Flow team found when it got its hands on the Wacom Cintiq 22HD interactive monitor.

"The interactive screen allows you to draw straight onto the screen, making it feel much more intuitive than regular graphics tablets, the programmable shortcut keys are great and the zoom pad is dead easy to use," says creative director Karl Doran.

The team now uses it in all of its products for tasks ranging from hand-drawn animation to rotoscoping, masking and motion tracking in After Effects, or even just creating artwork in Photoshop or Illustrator.

See The best drawing tablet: our pick of the best graphics tablets and check out The best Wacom tablet deals to bag yourself a new Wacom tablet at the best price.

05. Tachyons

Tachyons is an open source functional CSS toolkit, and it had a massive impact on the web design process at Fore Design this year. "It's built on a scale that allows us to design in the browser in a way that feels fast and fluid," says co-founder Dan Perrera. 

"It’s made it possible to move our process completely into code so, instead of creating comps, we’re able to spend that time refining our work. We’re able to take Tachyons from project to project and the time we’ve invested in it has really paid off."

06. Sketch 

Sketch logo

There's a reason everyone's still talking about Sketch 

Sketch has been gradually cementing its position as a top design tool over the past few years, and is still steadily poaching seasoned Adobe users, including web designer and developer Andrew Couldwell.

"I’ve used Adobe Photoshop exclusively for over 10 years – I even designed an Adobe product using Photoshop! But this past year I’ve transitioned to Sketch, and I’m amazed how transformative it has been. The power of symbols and nested symbols are a game-changer for system and product design.

Read How to get started with Sketch for app design, as well as Sketch vs Photoshop: which design tool should you use? plus 10 Sketch plugins you need to know about to get even more from the tool this year.

07. Paper

Person drawing with paper and sharpies

Sometimes the best tools are the simplest ones

While there are plenty of snazzy new tools vying for our attention, there's still space for traditional methods. BuzzFeed product designer Lindsey Maratta is careful not to be seduced by every latest thing: "I try not to feel confined to digital tools for other parts of the design process."

Maratta says her most successful prototype and UX spec of 2017 was made using paper and dot stickers, explained via a narrated video. "Between that and its role in several collaborative sprint-style ideation sessions we’ve held lately, good old paper remains one of the most useful tools for my team this year," she adds.

"My work this year has largely been about empowering teams of designers at a large company to work consistently and efficiently, with the aid of design systems," she continues. "Sketch has been a powerful aid to this. I must admit that I do miss paint brushes and image editing in Photoshop though, for the more creative web design projects."

This article appeared in issue 302 of net, the magazine for professional web designers and developers – offering the latest new web trends, technologies and techniques. Pick up a copy today or subscribe to net here.

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Jan 122018

Freelancers don't just have to be good at the services they offer, they also need to know how to market themselves. Being your own boss can be a rewarding experience, and now the Professional Freelancing Mastery Bundle can give you the tools you need to make your dream a reality. Get it on sale now for 98% off the retail price.

There is a whole ecosystem of freelancers online who offer up their skills and services to those in need. Finding an audience can be tricky, as can building a reputation in an already crowded field. No matter what you're selling, the Professional Freelancing Mastery Bundle can help you find your audience. 

This bundle is packed with courses that will teach you how to make the most of platforms like Fiverr, UpWork, and more. Plus, it will teach you how to hone your skills to build your own website and find your dream clients.

You can get the Professional Freelancing Mastery Bundle on sale now for 98% off the retail price. That's a huge saving off an essential collection of courses that can help you to go freelance and become your own boss, so grab this deal today.

About Creative Bloq deals

This great deal comes courtesy of the Creative Bloq Deals store – a creative marketplace that's dedicated to ensuring you save money on the items that improve your design life.

We all like a special offer or two, particularly with creative tools and design assets often being eye-wateringly expensive. That's why the Creative Bloq Deals store is committed to bringing you useful deals, freebies and giveaways on design assets (logos, templates, icons, fonts, vectors and more), tutorials, e-learning, inspirational items, hardware and more.

Every day of the working week we feature a new offer, freebie or contest – if you miss one, you can easily find past deals posts on the Deals Staff author page or Offer tag page. Plus, you can get in touch with any feedback at: deals@creativebloq.com.

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Jan 122018

Designing an annual report is part of the bread-and-butter work for many designers. Some may see it as relatively dry, but – as the examples here show – annual reports can provide an opportunity to turn staple work into an imaginative, enticing and attractive design to enhance your design portfolio.

Imagery is a useful tool in this endeavour. There’s no reason why an annual report has to look dry or text-heavy, and the right approach to photography, graphics and/or illustration can really help your design to sing. Here’s how to do it...

01. Choose gorgeous photography or illustration

Annual report with a photo of a student operating lab equipment

Photography can help promote a personal connection between client and audience

First you need to decide whether to focus your approach on photography, illustration or vector graphics. This choice will depend largely on the brief, the intended audience and the kind of report you wish to produce.

Take for example the Donor Report for the University of Cambridge, shown above and below. Designed by The District, this annual publication is sent to people who donate large amounts of money to the institution.

Six photos of students and captions

The focus on people meant photography was the obvious choice

“While many of the projects that benefit are capital projects and investments in technology, our research made it clear that ultimately donors are investing in people,” explains creative director Alun Shooter.  

“So we felt photographing the benefactors of the new buildings, equipment and facilities was the best way to go. Simply using typography and colour may have looked great graphically, but would have missed an opportunity and arguably felt sterile.”

Of course, photography isn’t relevant to every annual report. If your report’s focus lies less in personal stories and more in statistical analysis, for example, it may be better to use graphics to bring facts and figures to life in a fun and attractive way.

Alternatively, if your visual goal is to highlight more abstract concepts in the report, such as financial stability or business dynamism, illustration may be the best way forward.

02. Art direct your photography

Photo of people wrestling

Avoiding clinical, posed shots can bring a sense of humanity to an annual report

Assuming you decide to use photography, the next step is to plan the visual style you’re going for. Again, this will stem from your overriding aims and objectives.

For the Donor Report, the concept of being human-centric was the prime factor in deciding how to art-direct the photography by Owen Richards, says creative director Matt Bagnall.

“While these were posed portraits, there needed to be a humanity to them,” Bagnall explains. “So the subjects were, for example, shot in their offices surrounded by personal ephemera, rather than in a clinical setting.”

It also tied in to how the images were reproduced in print. “We selected uncoated paper stock to give a warmth to the piece,” he explains. “This supported the people-led imagery and was deliberately less slick than if we’d used a coated paper. It made everything feel coherent and accessible rather than elitist.”

03. Select your illustration style

Greenergy annual report with illustration

Mr B & Friends focused on a ‘25 years young’ theme for Greenergy’s annual report

If you opt to use illustration in your annual report, it’s a similar story. Only once you have clear aims and objectives can you make an informed decision about the visual style to pursue.

For example, when Bristol-based creative agency Mr B & Friends designed the annual report for energy company Greenergy (above), it honed in on the fact that it was the company’s 25th anniversary year.

“This was a big deal for Greenergy,” says design director Sheena Mistry. “For a modest-sized company to remain fiercely independent and achieve 25 years of success and growth is nothing to be sneezed at.

"So we worked alongside Spanish artist Mauco Sosa to develop a distinct illustration style for the report, capturing all elements of the business model in an upbeat, forward-looking and interesting way.”

White illustration on dark blue

The main illustration for the Greenway report 

Importantly, while the illustrations in the report are attractive in their simplicity, that doesn’t mean they’re abstract; each has a specific and significant meaning. For example, the main illustration shown above is inspired by Greenway business model, which the company describes as “efficient and streamlined with a clear point of direction”.

04. Combine photography and illustration

 Pictures of children playing and working, plus doodle lines

In this annual report 'Fighting child poverty' for the Mayor's Fund for London, hand-drawn lines and doodles work with photos to create a child-like feel

Photography and illustrations aren’t mutually exclusive in annual report design, of course; there’s no reason you can’t use both. Just make sure there’s a clear reason for doing so, or it may look like you’re just throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Fighting child poverty report cover with London skyline doodle illustration

One of the central features of the brief for this report was a 'journey map' that shows the ideal path followed by the children helped by the charity

A good example can be seen in the annual report for the Mayor's Fund for London by Consider Creative. This organisation aims to give disadvantaged young Londoners the skills and opportunities they need to climb the career ladder and escape the threat of child poverty.

Photo of a pencil, doodle illustrations and a photo of a child drawing, in this annual report booklet

The pencil symbolises the charity itself – it's a grass-roots tool fundamental to personal development

“We were looking for a thread to take us through the successes and highlights of their year; to bring alive a report that could otherwise feel quite static,” says creative director Alistair Kelly. “That thread became quite literal when we struck upon the idea of a pencil line as the continuous visual device, from start to finish.

“Photography and photoshoot was led by showing who the Mayor's fund for London benefits – the disadvantaged children of London. We ended up commissioning a branded pencil that became a key reminder of the annual report and a great leave behind.”

05. Auto-generate your imagery

Annual report with satellite map and data graphic

Gyroscope is leading the way for personalised annual reports

Now here’s a future trend that throws the traditional approach to choosing imagery on its head. Personalised annual reports involve the creation of a bespoke report for each customer, stakeholder or shareholder. That might sound like a mammoth task, but clever software makes it relatively easy to automate the creation of an annual report tailored to each individual’s involvement in a company – and that includes the imagery.

For example, the health app Gyroscope designed and printed customised books for all of its customers. “These annual reports were all auto-generated based upon an individual's content,” explains freelance creative director Shane Mielke, who helped with the layout and design.

“So any photos come from their Instagram; infographics, maps and charts were created based upon actual data the app has gathered from your day-to-day activities.”

Report with graphs

Both text and imagery in the Gyroscope reports is drawn from the user’s own digital content

With digital services capturing more and more of our personal data, we’d expect this innovative way to approach annual reports to become a big trend in future. You can read a detailed explanation of how Gyroscope did it on its blog.

06. Seek out inspiration

There are so many ways to approach the visual design of an annual report that it’s easy to end up feeling a little overwhelmed. A good way to get ideas flowing for your own design can be to check out how others have approached the discipline. Here are a few good places to start.

Annual report with double-page penguin photo

The Wildlife Conservation Society is famed for its stunning photography-based reports

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has a strong reputation for beautifully designed, photo-led annual reports that are similar in style to a high-end magazine or travel brochure. You can download PDFs of the last few years’ reports from its website.

Green 3D illustration in an annual report

The Zumtobel Group has commissioned some of the industry’s best illustrators for its annual reports

The Zumtobel Group is an Austria-based lighting manufacturer that has made a name for itself within the design community for its beautifully illustrated annual reports. Each issue has been designed and implemented by internationally renowned artists and designers; you can see an overview on its website.

Annual report with photo of a model city, yellow and gold office equipment

Craig Minchington's 3D type stylings gave a unique look to Harnham's Annual Salary Guide

Harnham's Annual Salary Guide for 2016 features trends in the UK for analytics and data professionals and was designed by Brand Nu using some beautiful 3D illustrations by Craig Minchington, which you can see in detail on Behance.

Annual report in three coloured sections with illustrations

Flow Creative designed a distinctive vector graphic style for the IPPR

Flow Creative, an award-winning creative studio based in Manchester, was asked to create a report for The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)’s Northern Energy Taskforce. It developed a distinctive vector graphic style for the document based on road signage; you can see more of the designs and read about how it created them on Flow's website.

For more inspiring design, see these 16 imaginative annual report designs.

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Jan 122018

Anyone who has tried to create some kind of scroll locking, snapping or manipulating will know how tricky it can be. Until recently, JavaScript was the only option, but always seemed to produce a mixture of success and choppy or questionable performance from device to device. 

However, using this new property, carousels or sliders and other scroll-manipulation techniques can be easily created and controlled using CSS.

When the user scrolling has stopped, the browser will automatically scroll to the nearest snap point

The main scroll snap properties

Due to varying implementations of the specification, multiple properties are required to experiment with this new CSS. The main new properties required to experiment with this new feature are:

scroll-snap-type: mandatory;
scroll-snap-destination: 100% 0%;
scroll-snap-points-y: repeat(100%);

The scroll-snap-type property currently accepts three values: none (the default value); mandatory, and proximity. The mandatory value will force the scroll inside the snap container to the nearest snap point, proximity will snap but in a much more relaxed manner. 

Both the scroll-snap-destination and scroll-snap-points-y are applying the same value: both apply the scroll snap points to 100% of the height of the elements inside the scroll snap container (defined by the scroll-snap-type) property, along the Y (vertical) axis. Combined with the ‘vh’ and ‘vw’ properties, full-screen elements can easily be created.

 .carousel {
width: 100vw;
height: 100vh;
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Learn more about CSS

Learn how to use CSS Grids in the real world with Brenda Storer at Generate New York

Brenda Stover is a Silicon Valley native who has been making websites since the early days of Geocities. She has been using CSS Grid in production for websites since its initial release to browsers in March 2017, and is a big fan.

Let her tell you more about CSS Grid in her talk at Generate New York from 25-27 April 2018. Brenda will show step by step how you can progressively enhance your site with CSS Grid and write a bulletproof fallback for older browsers.

Want to see Brenda talk? Then get your ticket now

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Jan 112018

2017 was a big year for the tech industry, with voice-first gadgets and virtual reality (VR) among some of the major highlights. This year will be all about usability: taking these technologies and making them accessible and enjoyable for the everyday user. This puts great responsibility in the hands of UX designers, and agility and collaboration will be more important than ever.

What does 2018 hold for UX, and what does this mean for designers? Here are our top five UX trends to look out for this year.

01. The rise of voice-first

Man speaking into an Amazon Echo

In 2018 we need to up our game when it comes to voice UX

Voice well and truly made its mark in 2017, with an estimated 30 million households now owning a voice-first device. Alas, many of these gadgets remain underutilised. The technology is there and we’re willing to buy it, but it doesn’t yet blend into daily life as easily as it should.

In 2018, understanding and designing for voice will be absolutely crucial. By 2022, 55 per cent of all US households will own voice-enabled speakers, so making these as user-friendly as possible will be a priority.

The rise of voice also signals a shift towards 'screenless' design; essentially reducing the number of physical touchpoints between the user and their device. This will give UX designers plenty of room to innovate and experiment, but it’s not without its challenges. The big question in 2018 will be how to make voice-first and screenless design as comfortable for the mainstream as possible.

Read our 8 tips for designing voice interfaces article for help.

02. Virtual reality for the masses

Man wearing a VR headset

VR will creep more and more into our everyday lives

Another phenomenon on the cusp of mass adoption is virtual reality. The VR web cogs have long been turning, but VR is still more of a novelty than the norm. However, this could all be about to change. The global virtual reality market is expected to be worth 26.89 billion USD by 2022, compared to 2.02 billion in 2016.

More and more, VR will slip into our everyday lives. From entertainment to retail to the medical sector, immersive technology will transform the user experience in a big way. VR will no longer be a futuristic wonder; rather, the user will come to expect it.

But there’s a catch. Virtual reality can only work its way into the mainstream with the help of great UX. This places huge responsibility in the hands of UX designers – not to mention a steep learning curve.

In 2018, designers will need to master the art of creating more convincing user experiences than ever before. From building realistic VR environments to making user-friendly headsets, VR will transform almost every part of the design process. This year, UXers must prepare to develop innovative approaches, learn new patterns, frameworks and techniques and, above all, to adapt quickly.

Read our guide to the VR web to start you off, plus check out the best VR podcasts and 5 ways to create more immersive VR experiences for more inspiration.

03. Collaboration is king

People working together

New focuses mean working with other specialists is essential

For many design teams, voice-first and VR is uncharted territory. Not only do UX designers need to adopt new approaches; they also need to effectively communicate these to developers. When it comes to navigating this fast-evolving landscape, teamwork is more important than ever. 

In particular, designers and developers will need to pull together to make sure this new wave of technologies is ready for mass adoption.

For UXers, this means making sure your skill set is up to the challenge. Communication and agility will be absolutely key... but this has long been true of UX. 2018 will bring with it a greater need to understand the developer’s work. Designers who are comfortable with code will be the driving force behind innovations in UX, and learning frontend development skills may be the key to smoother collaboration.

Read How to ensure a successful collaboration and How to bridge the gap between design and development for useful tips.

04. UX reaches the boardroom

Man sticking post-its with ideas and illustrations onto a board

UX is finally getting proper recognition

The good news for UX designers is that user experience is finally getting the recognition it deserves. An all-too-common UX problem is a lack of internal understanding. Designers want to create the best possible user experience, but aren’t always able to convince management teams of how important this is.

In reality, of course, UX is pivotal: over the last 10 years alone, design-driven businesses have outperformed the stock market by 228 per cent. At last, more and more brands are catching on. Here at CareerFoundry, we have been approached by several CEOs of multinational brands to train their entire management team on UX.

This demonstrates a notable shift in attitude that will only continue throughout 2018. UX will no longer be a topic reserved for web designers; it will be acknowledged as one of the most crucial branding elements, and thus made a priority for the business as a whole.

05. Tools for all

Women having a meeting

Tools to help improve workflow will be game-changers in 2018

As UX increasingly becomes a team effort, one of the biggest challenges for businesses in 2018 will be maintaining efficient workflows. Project management tools and internal communication platforms will play an even bigger role this year. Likewise, we can expect to see much more focus on collaborative, cloud-based tools.

Closer collaboration between designers and developers may also give rise to a new generation of tools. We will start to see more and more programs that are not solely for designers or developers, but rather have been created to help the two converge.

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Jan 112018

Web developers have a very important job. They keep the gears turning behind the scenes on all of your favourite applications and sites. It's a career that rewards structure as much as it does creativity, and you can join their ranks by working your way through the Ultimate Front End Developer Bundle. It's on sale now for just $39 (approx. £29).

The Ultimate Front End Developer Bundle is the perfect place for any aspiring developer to get their start. This collection of eight professionally-taught courses can help anyone – even a total amateur – learn how to code using the most important languages in web development, from JavaScript to HTML5 and CSS3. As you work your way through this bundle of courses, you'll start to bring your dream designs to life and just may launch a new career.

You can get the Ultimate Front End Developer Bundle on sale for just $39 (approx. £29), which is 96% off the full retail price. That’s a massive saving on a bundle that could help you get a start in a growing industry, so grab this deal today.

The eight courses in this bundle are:

  • Complete Guide to Front-End Web Development & Design
  • Learn to Code JavaScript For Web Designers & Developers
  • The Complete HTML & CSS Course: From Novice To Professional
  • The Complete jQuery Course: From Beginner To Advanced
  • JavaScript & jQuery Basics for Beginners
  • Advanced JavaScript
  • JavaScript: Gentle Introduction for Beginners
  • Website Wireframing with HTML5 & CSS3

About Creative Bloq deals

This great deal comes courtesy of the Creative Bloq Deals store – a creative marketplace that's dedicated to ensuring you save money on the items that improve your design life.

We all like a special offer or two, particularly with creative tools and design assets often being eye-wateringly expensive. That's why the Creative Bloq Deals store is committed to bringing you useful deals, freebies and giveaways on design assets (logos, templates, icons, fonts, vectors and more), tutorials, e-learning, inspirational items, hardware and more.

Every day of the working week we feature a new offer, freebie or contest – if you miss one, you can easily find past deals posts on the Deals Staff author page or Offer tag page. Plus, you can get in touch with any feedback at:deals@creativebloq.com.

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Jan 112018

Here I'll be talking about the process of creating ReY, a character that I made for the Beyond Human challenge (real-time) on ArtStation. I decided to develop my own character design, and here I will take us from concept art to final render. Eventually I even did a few animations for ReY; she's a character for a game, after all, so she has to be 'alive'.

I really like characters designed by Anna Cattish and Jamie Hewlett, so I took these as a kind of base for my own design. I was also focused on the Overwatch style in my workflow, and I strongly recommend you guys take a look at it.  

I used mostly ZBrush, aside from some hard-surface parts. Here I switched to 3ds Max instead, because it's more comfortable for me. I also did retopology and the character's pose sketch in 3ds Max, and GoZ was a great help here.

Download the files for this tutorial.

01. Block in proportions

3D sculpt of torso and arms

Start with spheres and cylinders then build from there

Usually, in the very beginning, I use spheres and cylinders. Then with the Transpose tool and Move brush I build primary masses and proportions of the character. It's beneficial here to think about famous Disney movies, and you can also find tons of references on the ArtStation website.

02. Sculpt the head and body

3D model of a nude woman with an enlarged head

Anatomy matters, even when you're making a stylised character

You should always remember anatomy. Keep in mind where bones and muscles should be, and how it all works. This is important even when you are creating a cartoonish stylised character. All main shapes and proportions are based on real anatomy, and when you do it right, you can then move on and play with proportions. For example, you can increase the character's head and eye size, or make their legs longer.

03. Add uncomplicated clothes

Model with trousers, cropped top and long jacket

Don't waste time labouring over more detail than you need

Here I keep using primitives to create stuff like clothes, accessories, hair and so on. At this point, it would be a good idea to decide how many details you'd like to use in your design – as a stylised character it doesn't have to be 'noisy' or too complex.

04. Use polygroups and DynaMesh

Sculpted hands with fingers shown as different polygroups

Polygroups will make your life a lot easier

You can create a hand as a single object and add fingers to it using CurveTube or cylinders. Then you can use DynaMesh to combine all of that with Polygroups (just activate Groups in the DynaMesh settings). Different Polygroups will be helpful later on when creating a pose for your character.

05. Call on useful brushes

Library of 3D brushes

A good collection of standard brushes is essential for pain-free modelling

I often use standard brushes like ClayBuildup, Move, Dam_Standard and hPolish. Very rarely I use Standard, Clay, TrimDynamic, Inflate, Move Topological, Pinch, Layer or CurveTube. Also, I would recommend you to download Orb brushes. For polypaint I use Pen A or create my own brushes – it depends on the purpose.

06. Create the hair

Woman's face with hair

Make some hair using whatever package works best for you

There are several methods when it comes to making the hair. You can create hair using generators in Maya and 3ds Max or use FiberMesh in ZBrush. Also, you can bake or just draw hair on a plain surface with an alpha channel. Personally, I prefer to create hair using CurveTube, and when the first shape is finished, I use hPolish to give it some smoothness and to adjust the shape.

07. Adjust clothes

Make edges lie correctly on the form with ZRemesher

Here I use Mask Lasso and Extract. You can adjust shapes using the Move brush. At this point, I use ZRemesher to make edges lie correctly on the form. Sometimes I begin with creating some folds or use guides to make a mesh. 

08. Create folds

Some folds in clothing look good, but you won't need too many

You can use Marvelous Designer as a starting point, but I prefer to use Orb_Cracks, to make the folds exactly how I want them. Remember, our character is stylised, so don't make it too realistic by adding too many folds.

09. Make hard surfaces

Similarly, don't go too mad with flaws in your hard surfaces

I did base meshes in 3ds Max and finalised them in ZBrush. Bumps, cracks, scratches – but you have to know when to stop. I also used ZModeler to crease edges. 

10. Add textures

Substance Painter's a straightforward way to start adding textures

When retopology and UVs are done, we can finally take care of textures. I love Substance Painter for its simplicity and massive number of instruments. I prefer a Spec/Gloss workflow because it gives more options for working with materials. 

11. Time to bake

Use these settings to ensure a great bake

For baking, I usually use the following settings. Antialiasing 8x8 only for Normal, W_normal, Curvature and Position maps. Antialiasing for AO and Thickness – none, because calculating will take too much time. For the AO settings, I increase the number of Rays to 256. I prefer Uniform Distribution with a Max Occluded Distance value from 0.5 to 0.8. 

Firstly I bake each piece of geometry separately and then bake them all together to create an additional AO map. As a result of this, I have local AO and global AO so that I can combine them in Photoshop.

12. Design colour schemes

A strong palette will make all the difference to your character

At the very beginning I just fill everything with a flat colour, and then I try to find more interesting colours for my character. There is tons of information about palettes and colour theory on the internet. You can find a picture that looks good and simply pick some colours directly from it. 

Keep in mind that Substance Painter works in sRGB colour space, and that the colour you have chosen may be not as bright. After that I adjust Specular and Glossiness for each piece. I try to keep my materials list organised and straightforward.

13. Throw in a little noise

The barest layer of noise will break up your colours nicely

You can add a little noise to solid colours by using Procedural maps. Set the Overlay or Multiply blending mode with 3-10% opacity. It will give a nice effect of non-uniform colour. You can also use this method for Glossiness. 

14. Use a Gradient Mask for secondary colours

Use gradients to easily bring in some secondary colours

Gradients help with adding some secondary colours to your main ones. Create a solid layer with a secondary colour through a gradient mask which you can draw by hand or use projection. 

15. Include scratches, edges and dirt

Substance Designer's mask generators are ideal for giving clothes a worn look

Here I add a worn effect to the clothes. By using the Curvature map, I create shabby borders and add some dirt to the seams. There are a lot of cool Mask Generators in Substance Painter. For example, you can add some warp distortion to make the seams look more exciting and then drop a Grunge mask with multiple on top of it. 

16. Paint the skin

There are more colours to human skin than you think; use them!

There are tons of colours on the human body and skin. Orange tan, pink hands, darker elbows, yellowish bones that you can sometimes see through the skin, bluish areas under the eyes, rosy cheeks, and red lips and nose. So, you have to keep all that in mind. Tip: I use a red Emissive map with a very low opacity to fake some kind of SSS effect. 

17. Bake some lighting

Bake some lighting into your model

I like the Baked Lighting filter. By using it, you can adjust basic lights and shadows just like in hand-painted textures! You can play with the filter settings, such as the colours of the light sources and blend mode variations. 

18. Add final details

Finish things off with a few ropey tats

To finalise my character, I added some tattoos on her skin. It's a mixture of sci-fi and stick n' poke. At some point, I was going to add more dirt, so I even created a custom brush alpha. But in the end, it all turned out too noisy, and I used it only with a low opacity level. 

19. Give them cool hair

Give the hair a good glossy Overwatch look

I like how hair looks in Overwatch, so I tried to create something similar. Anisotropy works well for the highlights on hair. To use it you need to create a Position map, and also a good Glossiness map to make highlights less solid.

20. Perfect the metal

Use Anisotropy on your metal and fiddle with the settings until it looks good

For metallic parts I also use Anisotropy. But here it's much easier: just activate Anisotropy in material in Marmoset Toolbag and play with the settings.

21. Rig and skin

Use a Biped rig in 3ds Max (unless you're using Maya)

I rigged in 3ds Max using Biped and I created some additional bones for the hair and clothes. The weapons also had their own bones. I don't want to offend anyone who uses 3ds Max, but this was my last rig and last animation made in this program. I have now switched over to Maya. 

22. Animate your character

Once your model's rigged you can have fun animating it

Usually I will fix the final character's pose in ZBrush, but this wasn't the case with ReY because I was planning to create a few short animations in order to make my character more alive. I eventually created a set of standard animations such as Idle, Attack and Run.

23. Adjust materials in Marmoset Toolbag

When you're done, adjust the materials and light in Marmoset Toolbag

Well, we're almost at the end! Now you can open your model in Marmoset Toolbag and adjust materials and light. There's nothing tricky, but you have to remember that Marmoset Viewer does have some limitations.

This article was originally published in issue 229 of 3D World, the world's best-selling magazine for CG artists – packed with expert tutorials, inspiration and reviews. Buy issue 229 here or subscribe to 3D World here.

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Jan 112018

Skies are one of the most beautiful things you can witness in nature, and are often a great source of inspiration for artists – but how do you paint them with oils?

A common mistake when painting landscapes and cityscapes is to treat the sky as the last step of the painting, as an afterthought, which makes it look like it doesn't belong with the rest of the scene. It should be painted in connection with the rest of the painting in order to achieve a convincing and homogeneous result in terms of colours, brushwork, tones and composition.

So think at the beginning about how you want to depict the sky, how much importance and space you want to give it, and the mood that you are aiming to convey with it.

Another tendency artists have with skies is to over-blend. It is tempting to keep pushing the paint around, but then all the colours end up in a big grey puddle. Instead, try having distinct areas and visible brushstrokes with a combination of soft edges and hard edges to keep things interesting.

Keeping this in mind, here are five simple tips for painting skies that I've learned over the years, that will hopefully help you achieve beautiful convincing skies with oil paints. But remember, the main tip should always be to have fun!

01. Study the colours

Beach scene with a blue sky

Ignore your brain and look for what colours are really in the sky

It is easy to get caught out painting a sky with your brain instead of your eyes. The brain tells you the sky is blue. The eyes, if you make them work hard, will see hues of blue, yellow, pink and green. Really look for the colours and enjoy expressing them freely. You might want to avoid using pure colours, though, as the sky is rarely pure blue and the clouds are rarely pure white.

Instead, use various mixes that contain pigments present in the rest of the painting. This will harmonise the whole scene. Embrace the dull grey areas in the sky as they enhance the bright highlights. Indeed, your most vibrant light will often look the most intense next to a grey cloud.

02. Be bold with brushes

Field landscape with cloudy sky

Skies present you with a great opportunity to have fun with brushes

Skies are often the most abstract part of a landscape, so you can really have fun conveying energy and drama with big brushstrokes applied with freedom. This is the part of the painting where you can truly showcase your brushwork and your personality as a painter. Reconnect with the two-year-old child inside of you who used to have fun with brushes!

Use your largest brushes and be as loose as you can, but try to make every brushstroke count. You don't need to show things exactly as they are, you can adjust elements to improve the composition and create more or less drama. What matters is that you convey the right mood in a convincing way.

03. Use a ground colour

Pink sunset sky

A bright ground colour can give you some vibrant sunsets

I usually build up a painting with layers from dark to light, ending up with the thickest application of paint for the highlights. However, sometimes I decide to use the ground colour of the background for some of the highlights, as in this painting's detail. This is a technique I often use to achieve vibrant sunsets. 

To do this, prime your canvas with a bright orange or yellow and then add the clouds, greys and blues in the skies, making sure you let some of the ground colour show through, especially in the most vibrant parts of the sunset. Finish with some touches of bright yellow mixed with white to really enhance the focal points.

04. Paint in clouds

Big cloudy sky over a landscape

Treat clouds as three-dimensional objects and light them accordingly

Having clouds that look like sheep or candy floss is a fear that most painters share. Clouds make lovely shapes in the sky, but when reproduced on canvas, they often look out of place. My advice is to view them as solid objects with three dimensions, which are affected by the sun. The sides of the clouds the furthest away from the sun should be the darkest, and the ones the closest should be the lightest. 

But remember to vary the application of soft edges and hard edges. Thicker or whiter clouds can benefit from strong brushstrokes with hard edges, while thinner or paler ones could be suggested with more subtle marks. 

05. Paint trees and skies

Tree with the sky showing through

Bear in mind that bits of sky seen between branches should be darker than the actual sky

One of the reasons I love painting trees so much is the way the foliage and the sky overlap and mix in a beautiful way. The area where these two meet can be tricky to paint, however, as there is a risk of smudging the various colours together. To avoid this, I recommend working with layers. I usually paint the dark mass of the tree in a thin layer that dries quickly, before applying the colour of the sky around it and filtering through the leaves. 

Here's a little tip: the colour of the sky through the branches is a little darker than the actual sky. When the sky is fairly dry, I apply some small patches of leaves that detach from the tree to depict the loose branches.

This article was originally published in issue 13 of Paint & Draw, the magazine offering tips and inspiration for artists everywhere. Buy issue 13 here.

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