All posts by Alex Cornell

Alex Cornell is a San Francisco-based Designer and Musician. He is a cofounder of Firespotter Labs, a Google Ventures funded startup. He has also worked for IDEO, Plancast, and many other Bay Area companies as a UI/UX and brand designer. Recently he passed over 2 million views on YouTube where he maintains a periodic online musical presence. Contact Alex: emailE=('alex@' + '') document.write( '' + emailE + '' ) Links for Alex Cornell: Alex's main site / portfolio Alex on Twitter Alex's Music

Hatch Interview

Posted by Alex

Hatch is a San Francisco design firm founded by Joel Templin and Katie Jain. Since its inception in 2007, Hatch has developed innovative campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Coca-Cola, Apple, and Target. They are known not only for their exceptional work, but also their distinctive business model, which allows them to be a launch pad for their own products. Most recently, Hatch was at the World Series of Poker promoting their first “hatchling”, JAQK Cellars.


I had the chance to sit down with Joel and Katie last week to discuss their work, process, and the recent goings on over at Hatch. With the launch of their new website and the success of JAQK, and they have their hands full! Check out the interview after the jump.

Be sure to check out Part Two of this interview over on Grain Edit!

Continue reading →

Continuous Lighting Part I

Posted by Alex

We’ve written before about photographic lighting. Another lighting arena that I’ve recently explored is continuous lighting for video. As I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I jumped into this, I decided to start with a basic kit set up, and then go from there. I had researched enough to know that I would need at least three lights, but I was fuzzy on just about every other detail. I ended up going with the Smith Victor K84 Photoflood Kit. (Four lights: two A80 flood lights and two, smaller A5s.)

Now to this point, the kit has satisfied my requirements. I haven’t felt like I needed any additional lights on my projects and everything is lit well and looks (more) professional. That said, I have learned a lot in the process about what not to do.

First, these lights get unimaginably hot when they’re on for an extended period of time (more than 5 minutes). I use them in an enclosed room without a lot of ventilation and it can become unbearable really quickly. If you are interviewing someone, or performing under these lights, you need to either get things done fast, or have some way of cooling down your room. I broke a sweat just snapping the above picture, and they had only been on for 10 minutes.

Second, despite the benefits of using continuous lighting for photography (no camera syncing necessary, always see where you’re lighting etc), this kit is not powerful enough to really work in this regard. Unless the lights are right up on your subject, you’ll have to adjust the shutter speed significantly to get satisfactory results. It’s also impossible to get good portrait shots, mainly because your iris gets smaller as it gets used to the continuous amount of light; doesn’t look as cool as strobe. It works for some photo things, but I am mainly attempting to use this kit for lighting video. So far the footage has required a significant amount of color correction to make things look natural. The kit is a tungsten set up, which burns yellow/orange, and that is the color of the footage upon capture. Luckily I’ve been working a lot with Color and have been able to work around this.

The biggest positive to the kit is that it’s cheap (relatively). It helps to know some basic lighting strategy (three point etc), but the kit really doesn’t require much know-how to get up and running. It is a great starter kit and I feel like I have a much better idea of what I need, now that I have fumbled my way around with this one. Of course it will be a while before I can afford a real set up, but in the mean time I am having a good time experimenting and making mistakes. This probably wasn’t the kit of me at the end of the day, but it sure beats lighting things with assorted desk lamps and flash lights.

Student Project: Set In Stone

Posted by Alex


Note: I wrote this process post a while ago about a project I completed last November. There has been so much going on these days that I forgot about it in the depths of my terribly cluttered hard drive. As I have transitioned to thesis mode now, there are less of these sorts of projects in the pipeline. This is one of my favorites I have completed at the Academy thus far and it was interesting to revisit. This is the article in its original form, as I wrote it last December.


This semester we were asked to immerse ourselves in one topic and research it through a series of week long projects. The content of each project would be the result of our extensive research, and we were expected to pick a topic robust enough to be worthy of 15 weeks of study. Each project encouraged us to explore different design solutions and helped us hone in on a visual style that we could use for the final project, which would synthesize all of our work into one deliverable.

For the last month of the semester, we were tasked with compiling all of our research into a book that we would write, design, and bind ourselves. It was to have a minimum of 48 pages (6″ x 9″), a hardcover, and provide some meaningful insights about our topic which we uncovered during our semester of research. In addition to providing a worthy and refreshing commentary, it was to be a covetable piece of graphic design that felt visually appropriate for our topic.

The topic I chose for the semester was Mega Cities (urban areas with a population over 10 million people). The original focus of the project was an examination of what makes a city successful — what it is about a massive city that makes it unique. It eventually dovetailed into an exploration of the ways these cities are confronting the problems they face and how increasing populations make solving these problems more complicated and time sensitive. These problems are becoming increasingly relevant as the world’s urban population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. I flirted with numerous other topics, some of which I thought were quite interesting, but I found that Mega Cities would provide me with the most interesting and engaging material.

Continue reading →

Poster Collection: Zurich-Milan

Posted by Alex

The Pirelli poster I wrote about yesterday came from this great book, Poster Collection: Zurich-Milan. Inside is a great and varied assortment of posters from the Museum fur Gestaltung Zurich’s collection. My favorite was the Pirelli tire advert, but I love the above as well. Starting from the top, designed by Max Huber, Silvio Coppola, Giancarlo Iliprandi, and Anna Monika Jost. The cool thing about the book is much of the work is rarely seen elsewhere. There is some commentary, but I recommend this book mainly for the visuals.

Gerhard Forster for Pirelli

Posted by Alex

I am not one for motorcycles, but it’s an ad like this that makes me reconsider my position. Sign me up to be one of the motorcycle bad guys in the Bourne films.

What about that logo! I like it — maybe a little unwieldy, but it does a good job conjuring their product. I guess it’s hard to evaluate at this point given its classic status. As far as I know, Pirelli was in the business of tires and not bikes. Either way, Gerhard Forster makes the thing look damn cool. I love the charcoal-like texture in the shadows; similar to some of the Robert Longo work I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Kevin Dart / A Kiss From Tokyo

Posted by Alex

You are probably familiar with the illustration work of the exceptionally talented Kevin Dart. His most recent project is the trailer above — promoting a hypothetical film and his new book Seductive Espionage: The World of Yuki 7. The film was a collaborative effort between Dart, animator Stepahne Coedel and composer Cyrille Marchesseau. I have a soft spot for trailers of films that don’t exist, and this one is truly amazing.

Art of the Title Sequence recently posted an in depth interview with the three creators. They walk through a lot of process and really go into the fine details of the production. Very interesting read if you enjoyed the trailer.

via Kitsune Noir

Font Purging / 39,447 to 50

Posted by Alex

I have 39,447 fonts on my computer. Or at least I did, up until about 30 minutes ago when I cleansed my machine of all the typographic nonsense that was polluting my list. I had thought about doing this font purge for some time, but hesitated, just in case I might one day need to design a document using the official Jedi Knight font, or something similarly ridiculous.

I remember hearing Massimo Vignelli say in the Helvetica documentary that he only uses about three typefaces. I was embarrassed at the time, thinking of my infinite list compiled over many years of dafont downloads and “BEST FONTS!!!” torrents. I guess I considered myself a typeface collector and I worked hard to “get them all”, even if I had no idea of what use some of them would ever be.

As I progressed through school, I noticed that just about everything I had ever designed used the same 5-10 typefaces. Every time I opened Illustrator I scrolled endlessly past hundreds of handwriting fonts, “distressed” fonts, you name it; always searching for the same go-to options. When I did deviate, the work usually suffered.

After much deliberation, I widdled my list down and trimmed the fat as it were. No longer will I be tempted to use weird knockoffs of Gotham or Helvetica clones. I consider myself much better off because of this — not just because it’s easier to manage a smaller list — but because the typefaces I kept are good typefaces. They’ve stood the test of time, and are the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and development by expert typographers. I know something about each one; who designed it, where it came from etc. In this way it’s a bit like my iTunes library; I probably have about 60,000 songs, but mainly listen to a few selected playlists. I have thousands of songs with a play count of “zero”. Why I keep them around I have no idea.

The book pictured above is 30 Essential Typefaces for a Lifetime by Imin Pao and Joshua Berger. It’s a good place to start if you are considering a font purge of your own. (Though I disagree in a few places; for example I would not include Trajan on my list). My final count is now about 50 typefaces; a much more manageable number I’d say. It’s not Massimo’s magic number — I don’t think I could survive on three alone — but scrolling through 50 sure beats scrolling through 39,447.

note: I, and and many designers I know, tend to use the terms “font” and “typeface” interchangeably. Technically this is incorrect as they are not the same thing. Both this and this article do a good job illustrating the difference. Old habits die hard for me; I didn’t actually know there was a difference until about a year ago, so it’s taken some time for me to change my language.