The Man with 10,000 Bird Songs in his Head

The Man with 10,000 Bird Songs in his Head

<em>Popular Science</em>, New York, New York, 2003


The goal of this feature opener for Popular Science was to introduce a story about a man who can identify over 10,000 birds just by listening to their birdsong. He has them all memorized. The design problem was that this was a profile, but just a portrait of the scientist wouldn’t nail down what this guy does. We felt the best solution was to display the concept with an illustration, then on the following spread include a portrait of the scientist. Our intended audience is a male reader with a strong interest in science, age 35 to 50.

Once the approach that was determined and I had illustrator Jason Holley on board, I knew that when his sketch came in, I could rely on typography to help push the editorial message of both the magazine and the story.

When the illustration came in, Jason used two different thought bubbles for identical birds to communicate the idea that the scientist would be able to distinguish between the two just by listening to their songs. So my design strategy was to communicate the story idea by visually connecting to the illustration to create one cohesive piece, which I did by setting the headline in a series of different thought bubbles.

The impact of the design was felt throughout the staff of Popular Science, who all thought that the use of thought bubbles in the headline was a clear communication of the story idea. We also received letters from readers who expressed their satisfaction in the illustration and the design as a whole. Plus, this spread has won five design awards.

The total budget for this was $1,700, including a $1,200 fee for the illustrator, and our price per page, which for this issue was budgeted at $500.

Juror Notes

This year it seems as if there is a tendency to choose projects that have words in them, or thought balloons. This is true even if the words are symbols, are implied, or are conspicuously not there.

Paint on wood is a great medium; love the roughness and the aspects of a heavy-handed piece of art in this instance.

Collections: AIGA 365: 25 (2004)
Discipline: Illustration
Format: Illustration, Magazine


Design firm
<em>Popular Science</em>
Creative director
Dirk Barnett
Art director
Dirk Barnett
Dirk Barnett
Jason Holley
Mark Jannot, Scott Mowbray
Dan Koeppel
Quad Graphics
<em>Popular Science</em>