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Favicon Creation

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Along with cooking the chef's daily stew at the Kamusi Project - working with data, working with language partners, working with the tech team, scrounging for funds to keep the project alive and growing - are a plethora of smaller pots that often simmer on the back burner for months or years.

One of these little tasks has been updating our "favicon" to resemble the new logo that we introduced last year. The favicon is the tiny image that sits next to the page title in your browser tab. Often a favicon will be a single letter in the website's title font, such as the T in New York Times or the f in facebook. Other sites attempt a miniature version of their logo, such as UNHCR or Pepsi. (Coke doesn't even bother.) The problem with the favicon is that the image is only 16 by 16 pixels, about as small as an image can get on a computer. One pixel is a single dot with a single color. A favicon has a total of 256 dots in a tiny square that has 16 columns and 16 rows - not much room for clarity, and almost no space for art.

Our first favicon was created from our first attempt at a logo, back in 2005. It was based on a simple outline of the African continent , using colors from our site design. I don't fully remember how I managed to manipulate the tiny image to look reasonable, but somehow it worked. Here is the image enlarged to show the individual pixels:

However, that image said nothing about the Kamusi Project, other than demonstrating that the site relates to Africa. We had worked hard on designing our new logo, a sailing ship that conveys a major historical mode of communication in Africa while also featuring the K from Kamusi and the warm colors of the site. So I went into Photoshop, shrank the new logo down to 16x16, and the result was ... absolutely awful.

Being busy, I put the favicon aside for some months. The next time I looked at the file, I played around more in Photoshop, using a big brush to essentially spray paint a fatter sail and K. I shrank the file down to 16x16, and ... horrendous. Frustrated, I put out an appeal for help, but nobody was masochistic enough to reply.

More months passed, with the old Africa favicon staring me in the face from every open Kamusi browser tab (and you can imagine that's often a lot of tabs). Then this weekend my wife went out to see some fireworks with a guest, our baby went to sleep, and I fired up Photoshop to give the favicon yet another try.

This time I worked from the ground up, working with an enlarged canvas and changing one pixel at a time. After a couple of hours of changing individual dots from white to black to grey to the orange of our logo to a faded version of our orange, I had an image that looked pretty good on Photoshop. So I saved it, looked at it online, and the result was ... pretty bad. However, I'd learned enough with the dot-by-dot process that I could see that the goal was close. A little more orange here, a little less black there, and eventually this emerged:

Here is the enlarged version of that version:

I sent the image to our programmer, who installed it on the site. It didn't look great, but it was better than the Africa icon, and had the boat, the K, and the Kamusi logo colors.

Then a funny thing happened. I came across the spray paint version from months earlier, and looked at the file in Explorer instead of Photoshop. Know what? It didn't look half bad. The K in particular looked a lot better than the miniscule K I'd eked out in my late evening version. With the techniques learned over the weekend, I re-opened the spray paint file and tweaked, working especially on the curve of the orange sail. This is the result:

Pixel by pixel, it looks like this:

Now, though, we had two images that were adequate, and I had spent too much time staring at tiny squares to trust my own judgement about which looked better. So, I put the two images into an online poll and asked for a quick vote. The result was overwhelmingly in favor of the spray paint version.

With the voting results in hand, the file went off to our tech team in Ghana, and this morning it was uploaded to the site. Finally, we have a favicon that looks pretty good. Go ahead and open as many Kamusi tabs as you'd like - the favicon will be there to bring you back to your dictionary search tabs, with a K, a boat, and a wisp of an orange sail.

And I'll get back to more important tasks...


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