Post 1 Postface 1: The Suzuki Method Section

SaxoLaxo-Handling-Mark-Suzuki-MethodIt’s hard to decide which is truly the lesser evil: making the already 15 page first blog post even longer or making the second blog post a supplementary comment on the first blog post. With my moral compass pointing straight at “42” (not NNE<°<NE) in measurement of blogging’s capacity for evilness, I will step over that question and proceed with the next three blog posts all being supplementary comments on the first blog post.

I actually displayed what must have been absolutely hidden editorial constraint when constructing Post 1 (found here) considering the snowballing amount of visual content I generated while exploring the sections. In a gut-punched curtsy to coherence I managed to withhold a collection of images and details that were trailing away like an irrational number and would have at worst porridged the topic and at very best visually knocked the balance of images:text into a state of supercriticality. So instead, I’ve taken those lateral buds off the bulb of Post 1 to plant content anew. And the first in this cute little row of my postface garden is the miscellany for the Suzuki Violin Method section (found here).

Briefly continuing my appropriation of book design terms for blogging let me also direct you to my preface (found here), my frontispiece (found here), the colophon (found here), and web page length is unrestricted so no recto or verso is ever required take heed you paginating click-hungry server toads that divide content in such a way (found here). The adverb meaning in, at, or to this place or position can be found: here.


To those who may be arriving without context I was talking about the Suzuki method’s usage of stringless atonal cardboard violins as the initial step for new students. For an accompanying image, the gag I was approaching, imaginably discernible, was a schematized violin alluding to something cardboard-like: rectangular, flattened, industrially laid out.


The idea’s selling point was to overlay shipping marks on the violin making the visual marriage of violin and cardboard only slightly less barn’s-broad-side obvious then me now going through and explaining it to you. For its usage in that post the full image had to stay within a certain size but I wanted to highlight its pieces here to get a better look at the shipping marks which themselves will be highlighted below. Semiotics —takes a deep starry-eyed breath— so cool. Symbols’ communicative evocation and compositional oomph are so fun to play with; put shipping marks on an instrument and your brain, so familiar with both, performs an amazing fusion —informational chemistry— and if it can’t safely yield a new concept, the inert graphical body will still be structurally sound, embalmed by cultural awareness. If it doesn’t say something new, it still looks neat.

(And then thinking of language as symbols, a sentence fragment like “put shipping marks on an instrument and your brain” carries the same possibility for fusion as looking at an image of your grey matter getting prepped for a freighter — and this parenthetical is like something you would say to someone as you’re waking up and when pressed would only respond “nevermind.”)

A great joy in life is glancing at the most unsuspecting minutiae, leaning closer, and getting sucked into a tome of study stupefyingly focused on such a detail. This is the case with the natural world —kick a pebble then realize there are those who could write dissertations on the single lil’ mineral— but it is perhaps more striking with human constructions. I say this because we literally can’t even look close enough at natural world while we have to actively write the manuals that govern human constructs — and yet these can prove to be more opaque than quarks.

Unsurprisingly then, there are obviously very established rules about shipping boxes, from what needs to be labeled to where on the box it appears. This makes total sense as the whole process is a very technical thing (weight, consignee, etc) and deserves such precise attention, more so than, say, theories about the royal lineage of the Mushroom Kingdom (which probably has more documentation than shipping does). The only taxonomic detail I want to impart from this pursuit is that out of the genus of shipping marks, below is the species of handling marks. Actually indulge me one additional detail which is that the language of shipping marks seems to be designed to ensure the clearest possible handling rules while maintaining the least awareness of actual contents; same reason for sending the Hope Diamond plainly wrapped through standard registered mail. Shipping marks are the unemotional math behind gift giving.

If curious, whenever doing quick vectory graphics like these I usually just whip them up in Flash and export pngs. I’m sure better designers might share parentally concerned eye contact with each other as I say that but I find Flash for vector purposes to be like idk MS Paint for raster purposes (I’d more honestly say Kid Pix or ClarisWorks but I’m trying to be understood here). Simple controls but an efficiency comes with that, you don’t need to drive your tank to the office every day. I also use different key frames for different iterations which keeps things neat and allows for flipping through different ideas to be not unlike flipping through paper on your desk (which, of course, is not unlike flipping through frames of animation — design evolution as animation).


This Way Up

The goal here isn’t to do to handling marks what I did to the Customs of Beginnings in Post 1, so please don’t fear an in depth analysis of shipping logistics. That being said (…just bear with me) I found it interesting that handling marks are almost more like typefaces than MUTCD standardized road signs in that the same handling mark will have a variety of manifestations depending on “font family”: sometimes they don’t appear in bounding boxes, sometimes This Way Up has three vertical indicators, sometimes for the more esoteric commands totally different designs are swapped in and out message unchanged. Left unanswered is why two arrows and not one is the most common for this particular message; do we just like having a face to look at or is it less romantic (fills a square nicer? one arrow for This Side up? arrow for each arm handling box?)?


Keep Dry

Look: I’m not writing that much about this one. However (…) just fyi other versions don’t always have raindrops and isn’t it funny how you’d never give a cardboard box an umbrella anyway semiotics that’s all okay bye.


Note Block

Okay, something to say for this one. As I am wont to do, even when building a fleeting gag like this cardboard violin I first dip my proverbial toe as far into the waters of realism as I can (proverbial toes are much bigger than anatomical ones) to gauge the potential effectiveness and enjoyability of a clear and accurate reference. This means I noted that realistically only This Way Up and Keep Dry would have any place on a cardboard box violin; conveniently these are most iconic as well. There are other classics like Fragile (cracked or intact wine glass) and Temperature Sensitive (thermometer with indicated range) as well as more exotic flavors like Center of Gravity (target placed at actual center of gravity) and Use No Hooks (X’ed out meat hook) but while I appreciate the educational attempt at appropriate usage so too do I appreciate the creative opportunity for trading licks: monkey see monkey do. So, realism exhausted, I wanted new handling marks that would befit a world printing handling marks on cardboard violins. An indication that the item is for musical purposes seemed compelling; if deemed important, how would that knowledge affect the shippers? A treble clef might be a better choice (though arguably more instrument specific) but with the marks already in squares a simple note becomes a very pleasing reference to the note block from Nintendo’s Super Mario series. The note blocks, being blocks like the brick ones but unbreakable and trampoline-like instead, raise some interesting questions about Princess Peach as she supposedly has the power to transform the brick blocks back into mushroom people but what can she do to note blocks and who’s her dad anyway?


Peg Tuning Specification

This one likewise expands on the invented handling mark. I think any creative work (no matter how small) is often enhanced by some subtle paradigm shifting shard that can both help digest the main concept like a gastrolith as well as let a little light leak into the scene relaxing the audience with the comfort of an escape route. I liked the Note Block for that reason; it appears to fit the matter at hand but it’s mostly just a reference based on nothing more than visual similarity. This is in contrast to the above fabricated Peg Tuning Specification handling mark which is taking the premise of “what handling marks would appear on a cardboard violin” and treating it with utmost gravity. The idea is that the handler could see which notes the instrument would be tuned to, as if the box would be handled differently if in the key of B — I find this even more conceptually intriguing with box violins being fundamentally stringless. A semiotic nuance equally intriguing to me is that while this is the accurate arrangement of the strings in the pegbox, undescribed is that the strings go G/D/A/E (clockwise from the bottom left), a bit of instruction only obvious from this graphic if taught music theory. And the fact that I designed original letters for a fake handling mark to be displayed at a tiny size within an illustration for what was to be a single blog post, well, ha, that’s a fact alright.


Suzuki Materials

And this image, believe it or not, now so far from the top of the page, is the main reason I convinced myself to expand this miscellany into an additional post. It, as you can now guess, would let handlers know the box was for Suzuki purposes whatever that means but the main point of interest for this one is the process of making it.

This (above) is a simplified redesign of the actSaxoLaxo-Suzukiual Suzuki method logo (right) which, as noted in Post 1, I enjoyed recreating for lack of a satisfactory existing one. The original logo was a source of deep procrastinatory meditation for myself as a young violinning tyro. Potentially the first bit of graphic design I ever intentionally reflected on, this logo is both geometrically and symbolically rich and just generally looks like the dictionary definition of hypnotizing. As I kid I was perplexed by the effortless metamorphosis from radial to concentric and probably asked, “how dey do dat?” So thoroughly satisfied by the geometry I never considered the reason for such a logo until much later and I’d have to guess it relates to the Suzuki method’s encouragement of large group unison performances; so the individual student emerges from a unique path and connects with those around them, all coming together; and then the focal circles could be strata of technical advancement. Speculation; I am not affiliated with Suzuki despite currently dominating my word cloud with their trademark.

SaxoLaxo-Suzuki-Logos-SmallMy intent was to simply shrink that baby down to make it a handling mark but as seen on the far left it did not scan at all. So, as is so popular in design today, I needed to address the issue of logo scalability. Breaking the image into its key components of circles, dots, and radii, I reduced their numbers to as few as needed to capture the visual impact of the full sized original.


Unlike the original, the simplified logo was best served by its negative space being as equally weighted as the lines themselves. There was just enough room to do so, to include at least two circles (keeping the concentric design), and to roughly maintain the proportions of the original. There’re also some optical tricks: the dots’ diameters are actually slightly wider than the lines despite looking equal (especially when sized down), also the central negative dot was made to read the same size as the black ones (though actually being slightly larger). The matter of negative space created what was effectively a kerning concern, kerning being the spacial relationship between letters; much like spacing “ll” and “lo” differently, the Suzuki dots had to be treated differently than the lines; the basic idea being that the dots are unavoidably surround by more negative space than the lines (all sides vs two sides), so you pack them in closer than you pack the lines to compensate for this.


Like a zombie with a speech impediment, when I see static images displayed in succession I yearn for “fraaammmmeees.” Looking at the former gif I couldn’t resist adding two more frames between the original and new design to create this latter gif of the logos irising between each other. It’s rather crudely done and could use finessing — particularly how the radii shift from new back to original. Thinking of polish, I could also not resist simulating an actual instance of the freshly scalable logo in action:


In our world of wall-to-wall digital UI, it looks so natural to see this Suzuki logo shape shift. I could imagine a Suzuki app that tells you if your cardboard is in tune and the app icon is the simplified logo and clicking it expands the shape and does Princess Peach have a mommy? Let’s quickly look at what makes this animation different from the previous one (ignoring the gifs’ durations):

  • Most obviously, the simplified logo is much smaller. For the cleanest transition I resized the simplified logo until its lines and dots were about the same weight as the original’s — strategies like this are very helpful to recognize in design; you don’t have to be at the whim of creative “feels” instead it’s sometimes better to be guided by concrete relationships.
  • There are 2 additional frames. This makes a total of 1 original logo, 4 transitional frames, and 1 simplified logo (then the same in reverse). These 2 additional frames bookending the action are the easiest way to make a smooth change: barely different than the logo key frames they ease the motion IN and OUT. A breakdown would look like this (numbers are the frames, dashes are the spacing):


  • One of my favorite things about animation is the ability to blatantly present movement without making it obvious. As this logo changes shape it subtly rotates complimenting its spiral presence. If that’s too obvious for my preamble, when changing from the small simplified logo back to the original I didn’t simply reverse the frames; that would create a screw/unscrew motion. More satisfyingly, it continues to rotate in the counterclockwise direction of its spiral while it enlarges. So while there’re only 2 additional shapes (ease IN and OUT) the 8 transition frames have all been rotated uniquely: 2,3,4,5 rotating counterclockwise/shrinking AND 7,8,9,10 rotating counterclockwise/growing. The value of this type of attention is that the final product actually appears more effortless than if less effort was invested.

The original logo itself is begging to be animated with the dots shifting around, but for its required precision I’ll have to save that for another postface.

Some additional pieces that were turned away at the door of Post 1 were these renderings of the schematic violin. Similar to the impetus for animating the gifs above, after finalizing the image of the blocky instrument and filing it away under “Unreservedly Done” I really really irresistibly wanted to see its blockiness in 3D.

The 2D illustration was made to be accurate as a blueprint so bringing it into SketchUp I digitally carved this instrument that, let’s be honest, looks incredibly uncomfortable to play; it looks like the choice for Itzhak Perlman presents Koji Kondo. There are some slight alterations from the blueprint design that I think improve its sculptural appearance but that’s also just justification for my own shackled hands when it comes to modeling.

If you look at the violin underside of the original illustration you will notice the chinrest is on the wrong side which frustratingly didn’t cross my mind until spending time with the 3D model and then returning to the 2D image, my eyes gently rolling at the oversight.



And then I may as well get these out of the way. Not even making it to the door these never even got dressed for Post 1. Contrary to conventional structuring wisdom, I’m ending on my weaker material (although to be fair, the expected escalation of  purpose so foundational in all creative pedagogy has been seemingly trounced by the internet’s edict to start strong, think viral, and ignore the ending because no one is going to have the patience to get there anyway). Inventing handling marks is a very brainstorm friendly task; naturally there’s some catch and release. Here’re two now swimming away.

SaxoLaxo-Handling-Mark-CultureIn reference to the aforementioned Fragile wine glass symbol, I was thinking of wine and classical music as signifiers of high society and thought the visual play could create a sort of Contains Culture symbol. Its weakness is the general clutter; it has so many pieces the Fragile wine glass association is lost (and I didn’t even include cheese); but also conceptually it doesn’t ring true as it isn’t on a box containing a violin but on the box violin itself: no one is standing around with their monocle I-do-declaring a 7 year old holding cardboard — and the object being soundless doesn’t even allow for an association of wine bottle as parental headache relief.

SaxoLaxo-Handling-Mark-Fhole-StradivariusAn idea that could be reworked for another purpose is to replace the the violin’s vibration enabling sound holes with a printed handling mark. I am SaxoLaxo-Handling-Mark-Fholeparticularly fond of “portable hole” style —almost sacredly representational— dimension bending: 2D hole looks like 3D hole but is 2D image so how will it behave, Wile E. Coyote (the sacred element being the precedent of religions using iconography as transubstantiated systems: torii as cross-fade, mihrab as absence of distance, holy water as Purell for the Devil). Not using this symbol I didn’t have to decide between a realistic F-hole or one that fits within the “font family” of handling marks. A weakness is that it requires the violin’s characteristic center bouts (C-bouts, C-ribs, waist; can’t tell if rigorously monikered or sloppily monikered) to be removed which while more box-like just starts to dissolve the whole thing. For personal enjoyment I do like the single F-holed Gibson-Les-Paul-Special-Semi-Hollowbody-looking model and I like the whole box covered in symbols like a guitar case on tour. What could be seen as a weakness or a strength of this mark is that it’s really not far from the reality of box violins as they often have the full stradivarian likeness printed on their surface; my F-hole could be alluding to this or halfassing it.


The main fault of these unused ideas is that they start distracting from the real purpose of the illustration which was to be a simple little cardboard box violin. Just a simple little illustration. Just one. Oopsie! :P

Really ending strong, here’s this:


I sheepishly display this image as the wholly uninspired direction I began with before yodeling down an avalanche. I was going to finish it and do stuff and zzz but I was clearly too bored with the style to even attempt it properly. All I ever wanted to do was draw a violin and look what happened.

To urgently usher you away with a distraction: loosely related to shipping marks, the freeze/don’t freeze dapper penguin is one of those symbols that you never knew you knew until you look at it.

For my next number I’ll create a unique typeface for each digit of pi.


  1. Loved the discussion of shipping symbols, and I did stay with you til the end. BTW, latest Suzuki violin books at Amazon have spiral in color!

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