Web UI/UX Design
Meet Robert Baensch
Special Special is a seasonal publication and digital platform that uncovers the captivating stories behind large and unique collections. Featuring Robert Baesnch, he was born in Germany and came to the United States at a very young age. He attended Johns Hopkins and spent his career working in the international publishing industry, specifically in the international rights sales, export sales and setting up subsidiaries and co-publishing. Throughout his career, Robert has travelled to 74 countries and 263 countries.
In this inaugural issue, we interviewed Robert, shining a spotlight on the extraordinary assortment of salt and pepper shakers through whimsical collages, hence showcasing the remarkable collection of 2,200+ antique pairs from around the world, meticulously collected by Robert and his late wife during their travels.
Print + Web Experience Design
In creating Special Special, I took part in the whole process of interviewing, transcribing, and designing the newsprint + web experience along its typographic design system. On the print design side of things, I primarily focused on exploring and finalizing typographic designs, collage explorations and elements such as the illustrative pull quotes. For the web experience, I helped translate the designs from print into digital and animated the assets into the Figma prototype.
01/ Newsprint + Web Experience
Final Figma Prototype
Here are a couple web-unique moments and interactions captured in our prototype.
02/ Research + Interview
Before coming up with the interview questions, we needed to first get a general (but good) grasp of who Robert is. Thankfully, it wasn’t too complicated to reach and research him as he is Caitlyn’s (one of our teammates) grandpa, and on top of which he has achievements recorded online of his past work. After gathering info, we also noted down a list of concept questions that we potentially wanted to address later on.
Since the content of newsprint is a curated form of the interview, the questions we ask is an important prerequisite to the responses we’d receive. With that in mind, we made sure to carefully iterate and prepare the questions we wanted to ask.
In our final list, we made sure to keep most of them open-ended or broad so that we could focus on engaging in proper conversation and let that take the lead in the interview.
To conduct the interview, we set up a time with Robert over Zoom. Then using Zoom, we used its screen recording feature to keep a copy of the transcript, and then went on to transcribe it through Otter.ai. This gave us the raw transcript which we’d later curate and turn into the newsprint we designed.
03/ Type + Visual Exploration
Illustrative Pull Quotes
This first issue is a short 4 spread (including front and back cover) newsprint with a LOT of text. To incorporate balance to the text and visuals, and to match the whimsical nature of the imagery, we explored various treatments to the pull quotes.
Something that really stuck with us, was the idea to utilize the drawings June (Robert’s wife) created to document every salt pepper shaker they owned. June was an illustrator, and the start of the collection, which was more of a reason to find ways to incorporate the meaningful illustrations she left behind.
Exploring Type System
After editing the interview transcript, we then continued to explore different type treatments of the main title, in-text pull quotes, header, subheader, and the body text. Similar to the illustrative pull quotes, the goal was to strike the appropriate balance between readability and whimsicalness — so that the reader can not only easily read the content but also stay entertained through unqiue type treatments.
Supporting Assets + Collages
When figuring out the primary visual direction for the newsprint, we struggled to decide how we wanted to portray the shakers. Should it be purely illustrations? Abstract interpretations of select ones? Dropping all that, we decided to take them straight out the real photos of the shakers. We had thought, there’s nothing better than taking them straight from the source!
In our earlier research, we only had a couple images to work from. So in our exploration, we used what we could and tried collaging them into imaginary scenes that metaphorically portrayed the journey Robert and June took to own such an expansive collection. Later on, Caitlyn was able to visit Robert’s house to take proper photos of as many shakers as her grandpa owned.
04/ Final Type System + Translating into Web
Type & Character Styles
Due to the inherent kitschy/whimsical nature of our newsprint, the final type system included a very large plethora of type and character styles to match. Not straying too far from what was done in the initial type exploration, we fine-tuned and finalized the details for this stage.
Tweaking the Layout
For the web, we were between two primary layouts: split screen vs. continuous scroll. Ultimately, we decided on the split screen where the viewer could read the text on the right and navigate between the chapters on the left. Even though the continuous scroll had a lot of moments that we really liked (eg. full bleed pages), we felt like the split screen made the longer forms of text easier to navigate.
On top of that, we also tweaked the type system a bit (mostly sizeing) to fit the web experience reading experience.
All in all, I’m really happy with how our project turned out! We got to print it out through the Newspaper Club, and I got to see the printed newsprint only recently—which made me think that the off-white, thinner paper really ties all our imagery and compositions together. Besides learning how to collaborate with multiple people on a print project, I learned a lot about how to conduct effective interviews, how to further my typesetting skills and how to see things in both a micro and macro level. I’m really glad at Caitlyn’s grandfather was so open, keen and excited to help us with our project - we really and seriously couldn’t have done it without his help! I know from Caitlyn that she’ll be giving Robert a copy of our printed publication, so I’m really excited for his reaction and Caitlyn’s video of his reaction :)