Last call holiday card judge’s picks.

We are continually stunned by the incredible talent in our design community and by how many great designs are entered in each challenge — the last call holiday card challenge was no exception. We asked our guest judges for their favorites and, like us, they had a hard time picking a favorite.

Rachel Levin, senior travel editor at Sunset magazine, has never sent a Christmas card — but she’s excited to do so for the very first time this year with her new daughter front and center. She says she “leaned towards more general, less Christmasy” designs when making her selection.

Rachel: These are my top two. Even though I think you only want one; it was a tough call — so many fun ones!

cocoa Holiday Photo Cards
cocoa Holiday Photo Cards

retro greeting Holiday Photo Cards
retro greeting Holiday Photo Cards

Lindsay Bierman, Editor-in-Chief at Coastal Living.

Lindsay: This was tough — so many great choices and beautiful graphics. I went back and forth, but if I had to choose just one I’d say the space needle would be my top pick. Since the challenge was to refer to a city or region, I love how the card can be recycled for use as an architectural tree ornament!

Seattle Space Needle Ornament   Holiday Photo Cards
Seattle Space Needle Ornament Holiday Photo Cards

Tied for second, I really like the “bright holidays ahead” (although no place mentioned) and the “santa cruz basics” card. I liked the integration of type, graphics, and photo on the bright holidays, and adored the surfboard motif on santa cruz. Both are really bright and cheerful graphics that don’t overshadow the photo. I’d personally send the surfboard, but the conversion to an ornament gave Seattle the slight advantage.

Bright Holidays Ahead Holiday Photo Cards
Bright Holidays Ahead Holiday Photo Cards

santa cruz basics Holiday Photo Cards
santa cruz basics Holiday Photo Cards

I can’t wait to see what your visitors choose!

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freshly minted: The Home Sweet Home Moving Announcement Challenge Winners

If you haven’t already seen the winners from our last Design Challenge: The Home Sweet Home Moving Announcement Challenge, you should head over to the winners page to get a sneak peek into the moving announcements we’ll be releasing soon.

Renee Stevens of R Studio follows up on her editor’s pick from our Pre-Wedding Party Challenge with a winning design for this challenge. Her design mixes a whimsically detailed neighborhood illustration with clean modern typography to create her winning moving announcement.

Moving Full Circle Moving Announcements
Moving Full Circle Moving Announcements

Congratulations also goes out to Amy Fontes for her first editor’s pick and her first card for sale in the Minted Collection. We’ve been watching Amy’s work over the past challenges and we’re glad to have her work added to the assortment. Finally, a special congratulations to Amanda Larsen, she had two designs in the Top Ten this time around, a feat rarely seen.

Congratulations to all our top ten winners: R Studio, Float Paperie, kelli hall, Amanda Larsen, Mandy Gordon, Sweet Tree Studio, b.brown, Sarah Lenger, and Sunny July. And thank you to the rest of the designers who participated, we look forward to your future submissions.

Lastly, I noticed the Holiday Challenge submissions have broken our record for number of submissions in a single challenge. We are not only excited by the quantity, but also impressed by the quality of the designs. I can’t wait for voting to start, I’m sure our customers will be returning to have fresh designs this Holiday and you certainly have provided them with a lot of wonderful options.

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Minted Thank You Cards Get Noticed at Elizabeth Anne Designs

Modern Dots Thank You Cards by Oscar + Emma

Rachel over at Elizabeth Anne Designs writes about our Thank You cards printed on 88 lb. Strathmore Fine Writing paper and our great customer service. She ordered Modern Dots by Oscar + Emma, and by the sound of it was very pleased, “Minted was very easy to order from! It’s great because you can personalize your notes to say anything you would like, from a basic “Thank You” (like mine), or something more elaborate with your names and a date, or even a favorite quote. You can play around with it online and see what the design and wording will look like before you place your order, and after you order you’ll receive an email “proof” showing exactly what they will look like. After I approved the proof, it was only about a week until I received my cards in the mail!”

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Jody Wody at Minted HQ

We were lucky enough to have one of Minted’s newer designers come visit us today and give us her feedback. You may know her as Jody Wody, a local San Francisco designer whose sophisticated designs have already caught the eye of our customers. Here is her winning design from our Pre-Wedding Party Challenge:

Dinner Party Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
Dinner Party Rehearsal Dinner Invitations

We love to hear from our designers, so if any of you out there have something you want to tell us, please feel free to drop us a line, comment in the forum, or comment here on our blog.

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An Interview with Wiley Valentine

Following on such great response from our interview with Kelli Hall, I decided to get in touch with one of Minted’s first brand and community designers Wiley Valentine. Emily Owen and Rachelle Schwartz, both graphic design professionals steeped in the throes of agency life, finally decided to take their creative future into their own hands and started up their own design house. Wiley Valentine, their stationery brand inspired by their grandmothers, has leveraged the letterpress with a distinctly modern mood, giving forth to paper remixes that redefine traditional.

Michelle Wedding Invitations by Wiley Valentine
Michelle Wedding Invitations

minted: I love the back-story on the WV name. How much of their aesthetic is reflected in your work? What do you think your grandmothers would say about WV?
WV: My grandmother, Norma Jean, is still with us, and she is absolutely thrilled! She loves to watch us grow as a company and see what we do next. It’s really fun that I get to share it with her. In terms of their influence I think it comes more in their overall artistry and creativity. Although our love for all things vintage can definitely relate back to them I suppose. We also launched a line of cards last year featuring paintings that Mary Wiley had done in her teens! I think she would have been thrilled to see that!

minted: In an increasingly digital world, why is paper important?
WV: It’s such an important form of communication. With all the texting, emailing twittering etc…going on, paper has become all that more special. It makes such an impression when someone receives a beautifully printed wedding invitation or hand written thank you note on gorgeous personalized stationery.

minted: Do you tweet? I’m sure minted fans will start following you.
WV: I have not gone over to the dark side just yet… ie. twitter. Although I feel it’s only a matter of time! :)

Metropolitan Muse Wedding Invitations by Wiley Valentine
Metropolitan Muse Wedding Invitations

minted: Recent advancements in letterpress have opened up the creative possibilities for designers. How does the world of digital design and its tools affect your analog design work?
WV: The ability to create custom artwork and then have plates made has given us endless possibilities with the letterpress medium. It’s so fun to see what we create on the computer, translated into a hand letterpressed piece!

minted: What’s the printing process like, are you moving plates around and mixing and matching on the fly? Or is it a more calculated process?
WV: The plate process is more exact. We create the artwork, than we have photo-polymer plates made (the eco-choice of plates). One is made for each color and printed one color at a time.

Carolyn Wedding Invitations by Wiley Valentine
Carolyn Wedding Invitations

minted: The WV design wedding collection is richly intricate and heavy with organic floral motifs. Where do you get your wonderful patterns?
WV: We are largely inspired by vintage books, wallpapers, advertisements, and old magazines. We love blending the vintage inspired look with modern applications.

minted: Where do you find your material, the library, garage sales, archives?
WV: We can find inspiration in anything from old books that used to belong to Emily’s grandmother, to old print ads that we found at flea markets, etc. There is really no rule, our inspiration comes from everywhere! I even like to look at my inspiration book http://www.wileyvalentine.com/blog/2008/11/17/inspiration-books/ before designing a collection. I get tons of ideas from my magazine clippings.

minted: What are the rules for what makes it “in” to the collection?
WV: There aren’t really any rules. We try and make a collection touch upon different design aesthetics so there is something for a varying type of design tastes. Something simple and modern, something decorative and over the top, and something in between.

Matzinger Wedding Invitations by Wiley Valentine
Matzinger Wedding Invitations

minted: Despite the ornate patterns, the WV collection remains very modern. How do you strike a balance between the traditional and the modern?
WV: I think it’s a blend of color, typography, and overall layout that creates the modern edge. Also using a vintage looking floral as a pattern, for example, is a way of using a vintage inspired image in a modern way.

minted: What are your favorite colors for this season and favorite typefaces? (I know this is like asking you the meaning of life, perhaps your top threes, you can list by Pantone if you like for colors :D )
WV: We are completely obsessed with champagne (8003) and what we have dubbed Buttercup (134). We are also loving Aubergine (8802). In terms of fonts we like to use a mix of calligraphy inspired fonts next to more minimal modern fonts for the contrast. I also love hand-written inspired fonts.

Yolanda Wedding Invitations by Wiley Valentine
Yolanda Wedding Invitations

minted: As a collaborative design project with only two votes, how do you come to consensus on making design decisions?
WV: Many times we just start designing and it becomes clear to us right away if it’s working or not. However we also love to toss around ideas with our great staff at the office. It’s great to get feedback from our staff, especially if it’s not from a designer but from our office manager for example. She gives us more of the consumer opinion which is very important to consider when designing.

minted: How many iterations does it typically take for a design to reach its final state?
WV: In terms of how many rounds does it take to come to a final design, it really varies. There are those designs that come instantly and they are so obviously right, and then there are others that have more of an evolution process that could be 4 or 5 different iterations before we come to a final design.

Adrianna Wedding Invitations by Wiley Valentine
Adrianna Wedding Invitations

minted: How do you pick what gets sold on your site?
WV: We usually design a collection, then Emily and I review it as a whole. We immediately trim it down and finalize what designs are the strongest. Then we show it to our trusty Wiley Valentine staff to get a broader perspective. We often create items that are inspired by some of our most popular designs as well.

minted:
I love the WV blog, you both cover so many cool places and sites. How do you find all this great stuff?
WV: A lot of places are just places we have here locally. I love to share these wonderful places with people that may not be in this area. We also have a lot of relationships with wedding coordinators and photographers that are kind enough to share some of their work, which is where the real weddings come from largely. But overall I find myself being inspired constantly and it’s just a way to document that on a daily basis!

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Type Crimes

I recently convinced Annie Clark to let us in on her secrets to great typography. As one of our most popular designers, her insights are not be missed by all of you budding typophiles.

Type Crimes! by Annie Clark

The first project for my college typography class was to design a poster strictly using type that responded to a pithy fortune cookie fortune, “Chance will lead to thrilling prospects.” How easy will this be, I thought to myself, I will use the type to construct playing cards into a poker hand — perfect! Enthusiastic and wide-eyed, I transformed R’s and Q’s into an ace of spades, spaced letters far apart to create the cards delicate boarder. “I am a typographic genius,” I thought to myself, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s critique.

I proudly pinned my design to the board for critique, admiring it from a distance. You couldn’t tell it was abc’s and ampersands that made those cards, what typographic genius! Then came the critique.

I waited with delight as he came to my design. “This is an example what not to do,” stabbed my professor as he started his criticism, “type is much more expressive on its own, it doesn’t need to be manipulated into shapes, and I won’t bother getting into the type crimes going on here.” Type crimes?! I thought this was type genius! Later that day in class he passed around a list:

MOST WANTED TYPE CRIMES

1. Horizontal & Vertical Scaling
When the proportions of the letter have been digitally distorted in order to create wider or narrower letters. If you want a font to look condensed try Helvetica Condensed.
spacing

2. Pseduo Italics, Bolds, and Small Caps
A type family can be faked by slanting, or inflating or shrinnking letters. Not all type faces are created equally, a good font should have at least a bold and italic.

  • Italics: The wide, ungainly forms of these skewed letter look forced and unnatural.
  • Bold: Padded around the edges, these letter feel blunt and dull.
  • Small Caps: These shrunken version of full size caps are puny and starved.

pseudo

3.Too Much Space
Digital typefaces are designed with spacing between the letters carefully thought out, too much kerning does not make your type look light and airy, it makes it awkward and hard to read. The same goes for leading, the space between lines of text, mind the gap and don’t get carried away.
too much space

4. Negative tracking
Make the shoe fit, not the foot. Don’t use negative tracking to save space.
negative tracking

5. Stacking type
Roman letters are designed to sit side by side, not on top of one another. Uppercase letterforms create more stable stacks than lowercase ones and centering the column can help visually even-out the differences in width. Stacks of lower case letters are especially awkward because the ascenders and descenders make the vertical spacing appear uneven and the varied width of characters make the stack look precarious.
stacking

Needless to say, it was a steep fall from my genius, and certainly prevented me from being a repeat offender. Sticking to the to basic foundations will not only prevent you from violating the laws of type, it will make your designs more legible, more stable, and better composed.

List compiled by Professor Steve Jones, with help from Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type.

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Minted on Web100′s Top 100 Shopping Sites

Web 100



As some of our returning customers might have noticed lately, we’ve been making some serious improvements to the site. We’ve recently overhauled our back-end to take advantage of the latest content delivery mechanisms on the web and have implemented dozens of critical enhancements we learned from our last round of user research. We’ve seen significant improvements in speed, reliability, and droves of bugs have been smashed. And it’s paying off! We’ve recently been honored as one of the Web 100′s Top 100 Shopping Sites. But like every winning athlete, we’re not stopping yet. Look for more site improvements to our search, filtering, and browsing this week!

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Modern Baby Shower Invitations Design Challenge Winners

We asked for a new spin on an age old party and we saw designers raise the bar on creativity in the category. Clean, bold typography and delightful illustrations have, again, produced more designs that would look as at home hanging in a frame as they will on your fridge.

sweet tree studio and kelli hall continued to dominate with their strong aesthetic, attention to detail, and whimsical take on classic themes. Jennifer Postorino mints her first win with an artistic type-based illustration. Emily Potts continues to catch the eyes of our users, this time leveraging the mighty cupcake with her knack for clean type, great color choice, and fun illustration.

The runners up were not far behind our winners and their designs were unsurprisingly popular. Katie Beth Shirley, underthewire, Maddy Susser, and the sweetstreetgals entertained us with their twist on the challenge and filled out the top ten.

The editors, just like in every challenge before it, were overwhelmed with the submissions and had a difficult time trying to pick designs for the minted collection. You’ll notice a few familiar faces Emily Ranneby, Annie Clark, Andres Montaño, and Lori James of Guess What?. They continue to lead our community with great design work and commentary to nurture our new designers. Congratulations to one of our most prolific designers, b. brown, all that hard work has paid off, welcome and congratulations on getting minted!

To the rest of the designers, there is opportunity around every corner. Our Party of the Year Invitation Design Challenge is still open for submissions until this Sunday April 26, 2009, make sure you get your designs in for voting and good luck!

The 2009 Modern Baby Shower Invitation Design Challenge Winners

onsie whimsy

Cheery Frock

baby giraffe

cupcakes

Hooray

Whale Tale

Some Bunny's Having a Baby!

citrus celebration

Whooo's Invited

little muffin

Editors Pick’s

Addition – B. Brown
Conveyance – B. Brown
Hail – B. Brown
Soon – B. Brown
Baby Bib – Mandy Gordon
Baby Rock – Andres Montano
Baby’s Love Design – Andres Montano
Baby Silhouette – pottsdesign
Classic Stripes and Sprouts – Emily Ranneby
Spring Sprouts and the Birdie – Emily Ranneby
Ducky – Kerry Doyle
Elegant Rattle – Pen + Parchment
Floral Wreath – Annie Clark
Just Dotty – Andrea S.
Marrakesh – Beth Perry Design
Mod Mobile – Sweet Tree Studio
Nifty Nursery – Sweet Tree Studio
Mod Nursery – Guess What?
Party at My Crib – Sweet Street Gals
Punctuation – Jody Wody
Showering Baby Icons – Maddy Susser
Simply Mobile – Asa Ranneby
Soft Blocks – Kelli Hall
Stitched Flowers – Kelli Hall

Congratulations on getting minted.

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An Interview with Kelli Hall

Kelli Hall has become one of minted’s most successful and popular designers. I recently had the chance to learn a little more about her and how she came to be such a great designer and artist.

minted: How did you get your start in graphic design?
Kelli: It was love at first Mac. A first generation blueberry iMac to be exact. I wish I could say that I’ve always known I would be a graphic designer but, in all honesty, I thought I would make a career out of being an oil painter. With my solid history of pet portraits, how could I have failed? : ) But a few people close to me encouraged me to consider graphic design, so I got a computer, taught myself the programs and, even though I never fully abandoned my pursuit of a fine art degree, I added in several graphic design courses for a bit of a foundation.

minted: Did you go to school for art or design or are you a self-taught designer?
Kelli: I guess you could say I’m a little bit of both. I went to school for studio art and I was also lucky enough to have a full time job as a graphic designer while in school. I would go to fine art classes for part of the week, and then I would spend the other part of the week, literally knee-deep in pompoms, working as a graphic designer for a small toy company. It was a great experience and I was fortunate enough to work with some talented designers who shared their ‘real-world’ design wisdom.

minted: Did designing for kids affect your design aesthetic or was it something you were naturally adept at?
Kelli: That’s a great question — I think in the case of the kids design, it’s something I’ve become more adept at over time. In the beginning, like any new project you approach as a designer, I did a lot of research and had to learn to tailor my thinking to communicate with that audience…but now, I think maybe there’s some residual playfulness that stays with my designs.

minted: Where did you go to school? Who was your most influential professor/mentor there?
Kelli: I went to Georgia State University in Atlanta. I’ve had a lot of great professors, but one of my favorites would have to be Malcom Mobutu Smith. As my secondary drawing professor, he showed me the importance of personal accountability for my every mark. Malcom’s unique teaching method emphasized the pursuit of creativity alongside his teaching of traditional technique. His teachings sparked the idea of detaching myself from just making things that are aesthetically pleasing and focusing on how I can use design principles to communicate an idea. I guess it sounds really simple to most people but at the time it was a big shift in my thinking. Its a concept I still struggle with.

minted: Who is your favorite designer (or design company)?
Kelli: I’m not sure I could pick just one favorite designer. Right now, I’m really inspired by Yulia Brodskaya’s Paper Graphics. Her pieces have so much visual energy, it seems they could just unfurl right off of the page. There’s something so nostalgic about the detailed forms in her paper structures, but also something very fresh. I also love Joy Deangdeelert Cho’s work. I’m always inspired by her playful use of color, handmade influences, and unique approach to all aspects of design. Plus, she’s managed to create a whole assortment of designs for so many different disciplines, and I can’t help but admire that! I’m especially in love with her print and surface designs she’s created for urban outfitters.

minted: Your work is both illustrative and graphic. The unique balance between type and illustration has become the hallmark of your style. Tell me what goes into striking that balance.
Kelli: I’m happy to hear that it comes across that way. In all honesty, my approach to design is probably more of a painterly approach than a graphic design approach. In the first stages, my design is all sorts of crazy. I tend to begin by blocking out colors and shapes and then I slowly simplify the composition — almost carving away and making way too many variations of the same file. Since I have a natural inclination to lose myself in the details of an illustration, I really have reign myself in, and repeatedly ask myself whether my illustrations add to or detract from the idea/message. Sometimes it’s successful, sometimes, not so much.

minted: I also believe that iteration is the key to uncovering what works, how many versions do you create for a design and how do figure out which one is best?
Kelli: It’s a little embarrassing to say. I’ve worked with some designers who can consistently nail it on the first go. I take a little longer. For most any design, I create, on average, between 10 and 20 variations. After that, I whittle them down to 2 or 3 — then I print them out and walk away for a while. Usually, what speaks to me when I come back is the version I choose.

minted: We just got a bunch of samples in, and Glass Ribbons was in our latest shipment. I have to say it looks great in person. What was the inspiration for the wave motif?
Kelli: As part of the bride’s Chihuly themed event, I referred to Dale Chihuly’s glass works and installations. I sought to create a piece that was both elegant and emulated the repetition of like forms in Chihuly’s work. The color variation in the lines was intended create interest and reinforce the repetitive nature of the lines.

minted: The Pop of pink birth announcement is also a great design. The simplicity of the design makes any photo look great. How do you know when something is simply beautiful or just too simple?
Kelli: The final ‘Pop of Pink’ design is just a result of creating something I’d like to send myself. I knew at the beginning I wanted the text placement and color to emphasize the name and the photo. I think this challenge was fun because I had to push myself to question the purpose of my design. I think in this case, the difference between too simple and ‘simply beautiful’ hinges on the simple detail of the color in the name. Too much color would have overwhelmed the photo, and neutral typography would have left it uninteresting.

minted: How often are you making things just for fun? How often do you make things for yourself vs. for work, and how often do those things overlap if at all?
Kelli: It all kind of overlaps for me. I always get excited at the prospect of creating something new, whether it’s toying around with something on my own or creating something for a client that has a specific set of rules. I guess it’s the process i find enjoyable.

minted: In your recent win, Bellaphant, you’ve created an iconic turquoise elephant. It is very reminiscent of Pueblo Zuni fetishes, where did you find the inspiration for this illustration?
Kelli: I’m flattered that you’ve drawn such a generous comparison to my illustration. Bellaphant progressed over a course of multiple iterations from a little pink elephant hiding in the grass, to the inflated blue version on the final invite. I was inspired by some simple children’s flash cards and the cover of the familiar “pat the bunny” children’s book. I also have a tendency to create pudgy illustrated characters that are distinctly rounded or have exaggerated proportions–Using a fat elephant that fills the composition just seemed to be a natural extension of that tendency.

minted: And finally, what tips or advice do you have for artists who have just started entering the challenges?
Kelli: Hmm…This is a tough one. I’ve seen so many great designers in these challenge, I’m sure I can learn more pointers than I can provide. But if I had to contribute one thing, I guess I would suggest seeking out inspiration in unexpected places. My creativity hits the wall more times that I like to admit, so I’m always looking for ideas in the environment, old books and color palettes. One of my best sources for inspiration is Adobe Kuler — It’s my go-to for kick starting my creativity.

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