Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

After Hours…, a designers’ personal projects exhibition

June 13, 2013, 2:00 AM

As a designer, you’re constantly looking around, searching, questioning, measuring, discovering. It’s not something you can actually turn off – and even if you could, you probably wouldn’t. It might be tiresome sometimes, but the joys far outweigh the tolls. This restlessness leads many designers to make work without a client, brief or fee. Some are collectors, some photographers, film makers, painters, sculptors, illustrators, musicians etc – the list is incredibly diverse. As are the reasons. Some do it for their own pleasure, some for educational purposes (personal improvement or teaching), others for promotional reasons or just because nobody else has done it before in a particular way.

The exhibition takes place at the Jerwood Space, a very nice spacious gallery close to Tate Modern

‘After Hours…’ is an exhibition that explores designers’ personal projects, curated by Nick Eagleton (in his ‘after hours’, obviously) of The Partners and hosted by the JVA at Jerwood Space. It’s a wonderful mix of curiosities: prints, sculptures, clocks, chess boards, films, flags, 3D-printed objects, badges and remote control drawing machines. While some can be easily called ‘art’, others are the result of typical design approaches: solving a problem or communicating an idea to an audience. Either way, their authors share the same drive, to make their own work. Names range from very well-known, like Anthony Burrill, Alan Kitching, Michael Johnson (johnsonbanks), Phil Carter (Carter Wong) to a selection of young designers in which I was very lucky to be included.

A large Anthony Burrill wall-painted piece is the first thing visitors see and sets a good mindset for the rest of the exhibition. There’s also a reading table in the middle, with books and booklets from several participants, either personal projects on their own, or accompanying some of the pieces in the exhibition (click on images for larger size, or open them in new tabs for full size).

Anthony Burrill’s piece sets a good mindset for the exhibition

Below, on the reading table, Craig Oldham’s beautiful book ‘The Handwritten Letter Project‘, the exhibition’s leaflet (scribbled by a visitor) and my ‘Picturing Thoughts‘ booklet, showing twenty posters from the growing collection.

My Picturing Thoughts booklet (right) on the show’s reading table

Two more Burrill posters, the ‘Work Hard & Be Nice to People” one being a long-time favourite with designers all over.

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Among my favourites, six wonderful letterpress typographic maps of London by the master Alan Kitching, based on his experiences throughout the city.

Alan Kitching’s superb letterpress typographic maps of London

One can get lost in Mr Kitching’s details, but such a beautiful experience

‘Antigraffiti’, by Steven Royle of The Chase, is an interesting ‘anti-typeface’ made up of the shapes a paint roller leaves after covering up various wall messages.

Covering up graffiti becomes a language in itself

More projects in the second room, including Joe Phillips’s ‘Remote Drawing’ which proved to be very popular during the show’s launch event, and Craig Oldham‘s ‘The Flag Bearers’, a self-initiated project asking questions about self-initiated projects.

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Hat-trick’s Jim Sutherland is probably the most prolific, showing just a few of his many projects: ‘Garage’, a book plus posters about creatures and typefaces ‘found’ in his dad’s garage, ‘Type(chess)set’, a typographic chess set, a typographic deck of cards, a witty pencils set and various re-arrangements of chess boards, shown both as objects and booklets (you can get most of them from the Hat-trick website).

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The most prolific in the exhibition, Hat-trick’s Jim Sutherland

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The lovely ‘Garage’ booklets remind me of my grandpa’s tool shack. The spread bottom-right shows ‘Zorro and his collection of moustaches’.

Don’t miss Zorro and his moustaches

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Michael Johnson’s ‘Arkitypo‘ project is also based on typography, originating from johnson banks’s relationship with the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. The initial brief was to do something more interesting with 3D printers. They came up with stories for each of the 26 letters in the alphabet, 3D-illustrating them.

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For example, Bodoni was initially based on Baskerville, so the twisting shape starts with one and ends with the other. Nearby, a Fraktur ‘F’ morphs into Germany’s map, as the typeface was at some point banned for being ‘too German’.

Twisting from Bodoni to Baskerville, and from Fraktur to Germany

An eclectic mix of projects by younger designers take up the opposite wall (open the image in a new tab to view it in full size).

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Below, eight of my Picturing Thoughts posters, followed by guyandherbert‘s ‘Youth and Immortality’ and Myounghee Jo‘s ‘Trace the Memory’ shadows project.

Eight of my Picturing Thoughts posters

Still in the same room, two projects from Magpie Studio founders: Ben Christie’s lovely ‘For a Rainy Day’ coin box …

Ben Christie’s saving money for rainy days in a charming way

… and David Azurdia’s ‘ABC rule’, combining millimetres with markings for standard paper sizes.

A designer’s rule, with paper sizes markings, by David Azurdia

The third room holds one of the exhibition’s highlights and a personal favourite, Phil Carter’s (of Carter Wong) ‘Found Folk’ – wooden characters mostly made up of driftwood found along rivers or beaches. Some are as they came, some are painted while others are burnt for a more unified look. All fascinating.

Phil Carter’s charming ‘Found Folk’

My favourites, the thin fellow made of woodblock punctuation marks and the Brancusi-reminding one on his right :

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Next to them, two other interesting pieces …

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… Jamie Ellul’s (the third founder of Magpie Studio and now founder of Supple Studio) fine-looking ‘Time Is Money’ clock …

‘Time is Money’, as Jamie Ellul proves

… and Jack Renwick‘s (former Creative Director at The Partners) charming solution to moth holes: moth badges that cover the damage.

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Nick Asbury‘s ‘Pentone’ is another highlight, being ‘an artificial system for dividing language into different tones of voice’.

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Like many of Nick’s projects, it’s a beautiful combination of wit, humour and well-crafted writing.

Get it while it’s hot! — sorry, couldn’t help it

Next are Alex Swatridge’s (designer at Hat-trick) food-themed screenprints and the comic-book illustrations of Robert Ball (also of The Partners).

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Worth a good look too are the show’s details panels, bearing Nick Asbury’s rhyming ‘description’ for the show (he says it’s not a poem) and each contributor’s photo and bio, some almost as interesting as the exhibits themselves (open the image in a new tab for full size).

A fascinating collection of portraits and bios (open in new tab for full size)

Here are some photos from the show’s opening (May 25). It went really well, many showing up in spite of the rain. Nick Eagleton talked about how the show came to be and the challenges behind it.

Nick Eagleton during the exhibition’s launch

Below, Craig Oldham and Michael Johnson ‘endorsing’ my Picturing Thoughts posters :)

TWO TALKS

Two other events have accompanied the exhibition, the first one (June 3) being Adrian Shaughnessy‘s talk titled ‘Autonomous practice in graphic design: good or bad?’. Pros and cons were debated, the conclusion being that it’s good, and ‘definitions are meaningless’, so we shouldn’t worry too much about whether it’s art, design or whatever, doing it is what’s important.

The second talk, titled ‘After Five Minutes…’ (June 10) was in Pecha Kucha format (each speaker gets five minutes only). Six of the ‘After Hours…’ participants talked about their personal projects. Phil Carter was first, sharing the process behind his ‘Found Folk’ project and other related pieces. I was especially impressed by his practice of picking up sticks, writing on them and then throwing them back in the water for somebody else to find and enjoy. Such a selfless, giving-back act, something that designers, artists (and people in general) should think about – and do – more often. The others were interesting as well, you can read a good review of the talk on the johnson banks blog, from where I’ve borrowed these two images below with Mr Carter’s sticks.

Phil Carter’s writings on sticks found in the water …

… which he throws back for somebody else to discover and enjoy

[later update] You can view the whole talk on Jerwood’s Vimeo:

BOOK

A small book showing all the work from the exhibition was launched at the Pecha Kucha event (you can still get one if you visit, details below).

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My Picturing Thoughts posters in the exhibition’s book

CONCLUSION

Nick Eagleton summed it up very well by saying that there’re two kinds of people: wishers and doers – many have said to him that they wish they’d done this or that, referring to various pieces from the show, while those involved in it have just done it. So it’s all about which kind you want to be, a wisher or a doer?

Wisher or doer – which type are you?

THANKS & VISITING DETAILS

Many thanks to Nick Eagleton and Jerwood Visual Artists for making this happen, and a hat tip to all the people involved, it’s been such a pleasure. Also thanks to all that have visited and spread the word. The exhibition is still on till June 23, so if you happen to be in London, don’t miss it (visiting details here).

LINKS

— The show’s details on the Jerwood Visual Arts page, in case you missed it above;
— Review of the show on the johnson banks Thought for the Week blog;
— Review of the ‘After Five Minutes…’ talk on Thought for the Week;
— Review of the show on Creative Review blog by Nick Asbury;
— Review of the launch on Design Week;
— Review of the show on This is Tomorrow art magazine;
— Details about the show and ‘Pentone‘ on Nick Asbury’s website.

You can find out more about the participants and their websites on the black board with the bios, just open the image in full size.

On a similar subject, look up the ‘No Brief: Graphic Designers’ Personal Projects‘ book.

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