A few thoughts from Allon Libermann on his development of the Aluminum Ruler for Areaware.
When is information too much and when is it too little? In graphic information the line is thin. Take for example roadmaps, where it was a constant effort to find your location and route to your destination. Just looking away for a moment and coming back to the map you could easily lose your spot. On the other hand, a watch face without numbers and hardly any lines takes an added effort to tell the time with.
When measuring with a ruler the same is true. On the surface, it seems that the ruler has too little information. It's easy to lose your place or mess-up the measurement, hence the expression, "measure twice, cut once." Through a series of visual drafts, we played with just what visual information to add. For example, changing the color of each and every line, making numbers bigger than others, turning straight lines into curves, adding tiny little fraction marks to the fractions of an inch on every inch. Nearly everything we tried added more visual pollution than visual hierarchy. After pushing to see how much we could add we worked backward to see what we could do without.
The ruler in its purest form is a sequence of evenly spaced lines at varying lengths to indicate key intervals. Numbers sit above some of these key intervals to make reading the ruler faster than counting line by line. In the end, we added a simple gesture to create visual hierarchy. Centimeters and inches each have their own distinctive curve making each measurement visually whole.
Why aluminum? – Being lightweight and extrudable allowed for a large ruler that's width and curve let you apply generous pressure to secure it in place. No Other material would really allow that combination of properties like the glass ruler combining heft with transparency and hardness. Why curved extrusion? – To avoid the problem most long rulers have, they warp and bend up from the surface. The curve gives structure. Why the strange graphic play? – To see if another kind of visual hierarchy can be achieved to make some measurements stand out at different resolutions. A wide bowed aluminum ruler sits flat across the surface, about the width of a palm the ruler is easy to keep steadily in place along a cut or line. The measurements break away from the traditional visual hierarchy, questioning everything about a ruler to arrive at something unexpected(unique).
We observed most flat rulers eventually bend over time. The slightly bowed extrusion profile prevents that and adds extra pressure points for the ruler to grip with. A urethane strip is glued on the backside giving the amount of friction one would want with a large ruler used for tracing or cutting. The graphics are applied with a two-color screen printing technique. Looking at rulers we wanted to see if we could create a visual hierarchy based on the level of detail one is looking for. The millimeters are red and more subtle than cm and .5cm. Each whole number is encapsulated in a shape so one could count them as blocks. A dot is added every 5 for cm and every 6 for in, half of the next significant unit.