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

Picturing Thoughts

December 31, 2013, 2:05 PM


‘Born out of a relentless need to explore, Picturing Thoughts is an ongoing personal project which turns thoughts into images, thereby creating space for more interesting thoughts. — The title is inspired by Alan Fletcher’s book, Picturing and Poeting, its own title being borrowed from a remark allegedly made by Kurt Schwitters.’

This description sums up what my Picturing Thoughts project is all about. It can be found on both the project’s website and on the second page of the project’s first booklet, which I printed in the beginning of 2013, collecting the best twenty of the first fifty pieces. At the moment (end of 2013), there are seventy pieces on the website and more than a dozen in the works.

It’s Nice That, the popular online magazine, featured the project in July and were very kind in their description of both the project and my work. I photographed the booklet for their feature, you can see the images below (click on images for larger versions).












My initial plan was to do and post them on a monthly basis, but reality rarely matches our initial plans. I work on them in my sketchbooks almost daily, after which I finish them in Illustrator in batches of five and post fifteen or twenty pieces every two or three months, sometimes more, depending on my workload and other personal projects.

All pieces are usually designed as posters, but I have no plans of selling them at the moment. What matters most is doing them, the process, learning through it. I plan to print a second booklet sometime in 2014, but I have two other booklet projects that I have to finish first. If you’re wondering, I use the booklets for self-promo purposes, they’re printed digitally on an HP Indigo by the fine folks at PurePrint (they print the Eye magazine, which says it all). You can hardly tell the difference from litho (offset), digital has come a long way.

By the way, eight of the Picturing Thoughts were also included in the ‘After Hours’ exhibition, showing work by some well-known designers, and a few young designers among which I was very lucky to be included. You can read my blog post about it.

If you’d like to see all of them, please go to — subscribe or follow on Tumblr if you’d like to be notified when new ones are posted. Thank you, hope you’ll find them inspiring.



Isidro Ferrer

September 15, 2013, 1:02 PM

This post was initially published on TypeToken.

Isidro Ferrer is a Spanish graphic designer and illustrator, member of AGI since 2000. He graduated in drama and scenography, and worked as a stage actor before turning towards graphic design and illustration. His ‘plays’ with ordinary objects, different meanings, photography and typography have led to an awe-inspiring body of work that reminds of greats like Pierre Mendell, Armin Hofmann, Anthon Beeke or Polish poster designers. He’s been involved in a wide range of projects, from posters and identities for cultural institutions, illustration for adults and children, comics, TV cartoons, packaging, publishing to monumental and wayfinding. He has published more than 30 books, been involved in many exhibitions and won a lot of prestigious awards.

















You can admire more of his projects on his website, Some more info on his AGI profile, an interview from AGI Open Barcelona in 2011 and another interview by IndexBooks.



Anthon Beeke – It’s A Miracle

August 9, 2013, 1:10 PM

This post was initially published on TypeToken.

Dutch design is well-known for its boldness, but even among Dutch designers, Anthon Beeke is certainly one of the most provocative. His work not only informs and surprises, but it often tests the limits of free expression. “It’s a miracle” is a new book from BIS Publishers, celebrating Anthon Beeke’s impressive body of work. Chapters are introduced by well known names, such as Steven Heller, Marian Bantjes, James Victore, Erik Kessels and others, each portraying different aspects of Beeke’s life in design, including Amsterdam, jazz, erotica, collecting, typography, photography, provocation and communication.

His works range from beautiful and elegant pieces like the “Body Type” alphabet (created in reply to Wim Crouwel’s computer alphabets), playful, like the poster for Dick Bruna’s fameous Miffy character (done as he says, to beat his friend Bruna in his quest for simplicity), to gut-wrenching, like the “Troilus en Cressida” theatre poster, in which he portrays a woman as a Trojan horse, emphasising the play’s story. Either way, his work will hardly leave you without a reaction.












“I don’t know a single maker of images who thinks more freely and is more all-round than Anthon Beeke. As far as I am concerned, he is the freest spirit in Dutch design history.” — Erik Kessels

Book details:
Publisher: BIS Publishers
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9063693303
ISBN-13: 978-9063693305

You should also visit Anthon Beeke’s website.



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.


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.


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).


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


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



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.


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).


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 :


Next to them, two other interesting pieces …


… 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.


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


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).



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 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:


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).


My Picturing Thoughts posters in the exhibition’s book


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?


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).


— 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.



Design Student Questions

April 22, 2013, 1:25 PM

I was recently approached to answer six quick questions for a student’s project on self-promotion and working in the industry. It’s always great to share what I’ve learned, knowing that I would have never gotten this far without the help of some very kind people. Here they are:

1) How many projects do you work on in a week?
I usually work on two or three projects in a week, sometimes less or more, depending on the workload and clients’ feedback speed. Aside from these, I also work on one or two personal projects. Picturing Thoughts is one of them.

Three of the 'Picturing Thoughts' posters — many more on the website

Three of the ‘Picturing Thoughts’ posters — many more on the same-name website

2) Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew earlier?
I wish I had better teachers, but maybe it’s better that I’ve learned most on my own and by ‘stealing’ from the great people that I was lucky to work with. The best piece of advice I ever got is this: “decide if you want to be one of those looking at others’ work, or one of those doing their own work”. No amount of looking or teaching beats doing a lot of work yourself, paid or not.

3) Other than design what other things would I expect to work on as a designer?
It’s really worth keeping an eye on a few other subjects, not just design. Reading a lot will get you far, and an interest in photography helps as well. In the beginning I also worked in advertising, so a bit of knowledge about that is very useful. Not long ago I’ve put together a list with ten great books to read for a young creative, each with a few details. Aside from those, there’s also a very good book on copywriting, by Roger Horberry. Rory Sutherland’s (from Ogilvy) book is a lot of fun (really) and full of insights on how people buy things (behavioural economics, it sounds fancy but the book is not). All this reading will not only teach you a lot of useful things, but it will also make you more articulate, very useful especially when dealing directly with clients. A good designer is an educated one, with many interests outside ‘design’.

4) How did you get your first design job?
My first job came through a recommendation from one of my teachers, but at the time I was still a student so it was a part-time. I got my first ‘real’ job, after finishing school, by emailing all the top agencies in town. A couple of them called me for interviews and decided to hire me, I picked the first one. Since then, I’ve often used this approach (writing to the people I thought I’d enjoy working with and learning from) with quite good results, even if it meant just meeting them at first — projects usually came a bit later on. I’ve recently written a blog post for David Airey, you might find it interesting as well: On finding design work in a new country.

5) Do you feel as a designer it is better to be an all rounder or work in a specific field?
I’ve always been interested in working on a large variety of projects, maybe because I’ve studied both graphic and industrial design. The most interesting ideas and solutions appear from apparently unrelated subjects, and you can’t come up with them if you tend to do the same things. Not to mention how boring it gets, working on just packaging, just editorial or just identity design.

6) What is your favourite piece of design work and why?
This one’s very difficult, I don’t have just one favourite. I have a few favourite companies that I follow and try to learn from. Here are some great projects from a few of them, in no particular order: Pentagram, Wolff Olins, Lava, Studio Dumbar, EdenSpiekermann, johnson banks. Out of my own projects, it’s a bit tough picking one, as I always feel things can be improved, but let’s say I’d go with Baudeman, as it relies on a simple idea and is very striking visually.

The questions were sent by Laura-marie Saul — thank you.
You might also find Peter McCabe’s answers interesting.



Miles Newlyn on the succesful creative team and the design process

September 19, 2012, 12:03 AM

Miles Newlyn is one very rare designer that seems to be involved in almost every significant rebranding project across the globe. Browsing his website (links at the end of post), you’ll be amazed to see how many top companies’ identities, logos or custom typefaces have been ‘helped’ by his hand. Miles was one of the speakers at this year’s Brand New Conference, and his presentation is just as unconventional, inspiring and thought-provoking as his work.

Two things have stayed with me the most — first, Miles’s description of the ideal creative team:

[…] the most successful teams consist of a classicist, a mannerist and a romantic — classicists have the attitude of being in harmony with their place in time, they rejoice things as they are; mannerists have the attitude that creates its own little cosmos amidst the chaos, and the romantics dream of better times and places than here and now — these three human qualities I feel always provide the best team. Ocassionally you may have somebody who embodies both, or all of them, or it might be a bit lopsided sometimes […]

and second, his thoughts on the design process:

My process begins with ugliness […] Part of design is to perceive what is ugly, and a deep understanding of ugliness is the flip side of what we do — how can you make something better if you don’t know what is wrong with it? That understanding of ugliness is necessary to be able to move towards beauty […] Once you got beauty, the next stage for me is realness […]  Once we’ve understood what’s ugly in a piece of work […] the next stage is an understanding of which particular beauty it posesses […] falling into three main categories, the same categories that I’ve mentioned earlier […] classical, mannierist and romantic. Each of these categories of beauty are particular human perspectives, and so each of them are beautifully flawed. I tend to think very deeply about which particular beauty something posesses, and wonder whether that’s appropriate for the job […] The end of the process, which is always the point where you know you’re finished […] is ‘Have I found truth?’ — that’s when I know it is finished.

There are many other bits of wisdom, don’t be fooled by the slow first part. Here’s Miles on stage, with one of his beautifully crafted designs:

One quote that seems to have become quite popular is this one:

Stories have an end, and unless you want to think of your brand as having an end, then forget the storytelling idea, and forget people who talk about brand storytelling.

While I like its wittiness, I can’t say I agree with it. Good stories are always worth being told again, even if they end (Disney aside, Jack Daniels comes to mind here, they always have so many nice stories about their founder and their traditions) — plus some stories have a way of going on an on an on, sometimes never ending. I hate to use this as an example, but Eastenders and other soap operas are like this, people don’t seem to mind their way of continuing, they come back for more, no matter how absurd. And there are also some stories (especially Asian ones) where the reader has to add, continue or complete them. But I do think that ‘brand idea’ as a term is better than ‘brand story’.

Here are some of the logos shown in Miles’s presentation that he has designed or improved (and that are not on his website). You can recognise quite a lot of them from other big agencies’ portfolios:

The video of his presentation is available for download on the Brand New Conference website (you can hardly spend £3 / $5 in a better way). And of course, do visit to see Miles’s impressive portfolio and maybe get some of his beautiful typefaces up for sale.


— some more quotes from BNC 2012 can be found on the BNC website;
— photos of Miles by Eric Ryan Anderson.



‘On finding design work in a new country’

September 1, 2012, 9:32 AM

I’ve written a guest-post for David Airey’s excellent blog, entitled ‘On finding design work in a new country‘. As you might guess, it explains my approach to finding work as a designer in London, after leaving Bucharest in September 2010. You can read it below in full.

The good, the bad

Moving from one country to another isn’t easy, unless you’ve just won the lottery. The good news is graphic design has become an almost universally spoken language all over the globe. It’s almost impossible to tell the nationality of a designer just by looking at his or her work, unless it’s expressed deliberately. This means that, in theory, you could do just as well in New York, London, San Francisco, or Sydney. The bad news? It’s hard to get your foot in the door as people are still reluctant to trust foreigners, even when your work is good enough.

The approach

When I decided to move from Bucharest to London, I knew I was taking on the world’s best. There are around 46,000 designers in London, so competition is fierce. My first task was to research the “enemy.” A year before moving, I subscribed to Design Week and began to read the Creative Review blog on a daily basis. I was familiar with superstar agencies of Pentagram and Wolff Olins calibre, but I would’ve been naïve to think I could get a job at such companies so soon.

Knowing who’s who, even at lower levels, was a must. The Design Week’s top 100 provided a good start, and relentless reading of other articles and blogs helped me build a list of companies I thought I’d enjoy working with. I wrote emails to more than 200 of them, regardless of whether they had openings or not, each time trying to find who the creative director was and writing a little about their company so the email wouldn’t look like a mass-sent one. The strategy was to ask for an interview, not a job, and as most designers are helpful people, that was harder to refuse. This approach would get me far more than a chance for a job: I’d be meeting the right people, learning about their companies, getting good advice, sometimes even some freelance work.

“Creatives in general tend to move around in rather small, everyone-knows-everyone types of communities. Make friends with a few and you’ll soon know most of the others. And most importantly, you’ll be among the first to hear about new opportunities.”

Creatives in general tend to move around in rather small, everyone-knows-everyone types of communities. Make friends with a few and you’ll soon know most of the others. And most importantly, you’ll be among the first to hear about new opportunities. Blogging helped me a bit, but Twitter was by far the most useful tool, as people on Twitter don’t mind if you reply to them out of the blue. If you’re interesting enough, they might reply back — soon, you might just have a new Twitter-friend. It might seem like a long shot, but trust me, it works. For example, Mr Spiekermann was kind enough to say he likes my website.

I’ve also applied to more than 300 jobs posted on boards such as Design Week’s, but almost all of these are placed by recruitment agencies who very rarely consider someone with less than six months of UK experience. They also tend to focus more on people with known studio experience in their CV. Only a few recruitment agencies would recommend you solely based on the strength of your portfolio. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try — you might just get lucky.

A nice photo of me that illustrates David’s article, taken by the talented

The results

I got my first UK freelance project after a month. It was small, but I was working with one of the well-known UK designers, who was also very kind to introduce me to a few other established designers. Before moving, I had emailed him, asking if he could find the time for tea and advice. He was very busy then, so, instead, he asked me if I could help him on a small identity project. Of course I agreed. I’ve learned this way that it’s all about finding the courage to ask. Or, as Jay-Z says, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.”

The second UK project came after two months, another collaboration with a creative director (meanwhile I was busy with a new client from back home and also helping my former employer — it always helps to leave on good terms). He got one of the emails I’d sent to many London design companies. As he was setting up his own business at the time, he needed help on a pretty big project. We met for a chat and he was very glad to find out that we had a similar, rational design approach. I worked with him over the next six months, learning a lot on a very interesting project, designing the identity of a publisher and its four different newspaper supplements. So four months after moving, I got a three-month contract and another freelance project. Six months after moving, I got a full-time job with Appetite, a top 100 agency based in West London. Two years later (after moving), I’ve quit my job and gone freelance again, this time working on one of the biggest rebranding projects I’ve ever been involved in, all thanks to another creative director I met because of my initial emails.

“Luck plays an important role as well, but just as inspiration has to find you working, luck has to find you looking.”

What I’ve learned

It’s all about patience, perseverance, and the courage to ask. Luck plays an important role as well, but just as inspiration has to find you working, luck has to find you looking. You still need a good portfolio, of course, but that’s just the starting requisite, as London’s full of good designers. Write and talk to as many people as possible, be helpful and nice and people will remember or even recommend you. And it’s always a pleasure to hear from a person you’ve just met that they heard good things about you from someone else.

You might also be interested in my thoughts on moving, written back in 2010. Hope you’ll find my experience of some use, and, if you’re about to do something similar, best of luck!



Ten Books — A Graphic Designer’s Reading List

March 27, 2012, 2:30 PM

Thinking about Eye Magazine’s question, ‘How should we choose texts to guide students through the info-blizzard?’, I checked my library to see what I would recommend reading first to a younger me. I remember that when I was in college, and during my junior years, I was always struggling with which book to buy next. Choosing one on a specific topic, say typography, meant many late hours spent on reading reviews, looking for photos of spreads and so on. So many, but which one would ‘teach the most’? There were no libraries or bookshops to check first, and I couldn’t afford to get a ‘wrong’ one, postage was quite expensive.

Unlike the lucky ones living in London, New York or other big cities with proper libraries, book shops and art schools, the rest have to settle with buying online. Without guidance, this can be daunting, especially on Amazon, with its huge range. You might get a bibliography from your school, or you could find reading lists of great designers (see end of article for links), but these are rarely short, affordable or, most importantly, helpful and relevant for a less experienced person.

This is why I’m keeping my list to ten books. Five ‘basic’ books that will get you through almost anything, five more that will help you build on the first. Most of them are about graphic design, but those that aren’t will help you just as well, maybe even more. Here they are, each with a short reason-why:


How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul
by Adrian Shaughnessy
ISBN-10: 1856697096
ISBN-13: 978-1856697095
This book will give you a very good general idea on what it actually means to be a graphic designer. Whether you plan to find a job or start on your own, Mr Shaughnessy offers plenty of details on what you need to know and do. He also interviews several high profile designers, asking for their tips. The table of contents, laid out on the cover, is more than self-explanatory.


The Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst
ISBN-10: 0881792128
ISBN-13: 978-0881792126
While there is no such thing as too many typefaces (unless they’re on the same layout), this is less valid for typography books. Good typography is the backbone of any design, whether it’s a small Christmas card or a large supergraphic signage system. Hermann Zapf’s ‘wish to see this book become the Typographer’s Bible’ written on the back cover says it all.


Grid systems
by Josef Müller-Brockmann
ISBN-10: 3721201450
ISBN-13: 978-3721201451
The 80’s are some thirty years back now and fortunately David Carson is just one, so you’ll need to learn the basics of grid systems, especially now that webdesign has finally caught up in using great typefaces and proper, even flexible grids. While the previous book will explain some of the basics, this book by Müller-Brockmann is the cornerstone. You don’t have to become a gridnik like Mr Crouwel, but any piece of design – just like architecture – needs a good structure.


The Brand Handbook
by Wally Olins
ISBN-10: 0500514089
ISBN-13: 978-0500514085
Unless you’re living on a remote mountain, growing your own vegetables, you’ll know by now that brands are all around us. In this day and age, understanding branding has become maybe even more important than classic skills like typography or grid design. This book explains what brands are and how they work. If you’re involved in any commercial business, branding is essential for success, whether you’re a designer or not. You’ll rarely find such concise, no-bullshit writing on branding as from Mr Olins – and these days everyone writes about branding.


Steal like an artist
by Austin Kleon
ISBN-10: 0761169253
ISBN-13: 978-0761169253
This book has just recently been published, but I’ve rarely seen such concise pieces of advice for any creative venturer. You can read its ten short chapters in less than an hour, but you’ll find invaluable advice, ranging from copying as the best form of learning or freedom from debt to the importance of habits and perseverance. Buy it, read it, keep it on your table and browse it again and again.

Graphic Design, A Concise History
by Richard Hollis
ISBN-10: 0500203474
ISBN-13: 978-0500203477
Graphic design has changed significantly with the introduction of PCs in the 1980s and with the spread of the Internet in the 1990s and especially the 2000s. Still, the core ideas remain pretty much the same as the ones used by the Bauhaus or Paul Rand. The past is a great source of inspiration, as long as you keep in mind that you need to steal from many, not just one. Hollis’s book is a great start (also look for the Meggs tome if you have the time and the money).


A Smile in the Mind
by Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart
ISBN-10: 0714838128
ISBN-13: 978-0714838120
Design without ideas is mere styling. This book shows plenty of memorable examples of fine design, the kind that makes you smile with admiration. The projects shown range from playful, witty to humorous or ironic, covering the main business sectors. It also contains interviews with 26 of the best designers, explaining how they got their ideas. A must have for any designer striving to learn how to think.


Paul Rand
by Steven Heller
ISBN-10: 0714839949
ISBN-13: 978-0714839943
Probably the best monograph ever written about a designer, especially about Paul Rand. He is regarded as one of the finest thinkers, with work spanning from advertising, publishing to corporate design and children’s books. This book will show you the endless possibilities in design (even before the web) and introduce you to one of the best heroes you could have.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
ISBN-10: 0099526158
ISBN-13: 978-0099526155
It’s not about design, but this book will teach you about the importance of perseverance. Murakami offers great insights into what it takes to have a long and fruitful career. It also talks about the benefits of sport, especially for creatives that are bound to their chair for most of the day. Btw, this cover shown here is designed by Chip Kidd, look him up too.


by Hermann Hesse
ISBN-10: 0141189576
ISBN-13: 978-0141189574
This is my all time favourite book. There’s so much to learn from it, but the main reason I’m including it here is that it talks about the importance of leaving your familiar places to experience diversity and about the search for meaning. It’s a great book for any designer that learns that best things come from ‘seeing’ (not just looking) around you, and dares to step out of the ‘bubble’ designers usually tend to live in.

Ending note
Making the list hasn’t been easy. I had to leave out many gems like ‘From Lascaux to Brooklyn’ by Paul Rand, ‘Make it Bigger’ by Paula Scher or the wonderful “The Art of Looking Sideways” by Alan Fletcher. Also, the recently published ‘An A-Z of Visual Ideas’ by John Ingledew and ‘LogoDesignLove’ by David Airey are worth reading and keeping close, for daily references. All these will help you a lot, but in the end, the best way to learn is still working with a senior (in addition to doing a lot of work yourself, paid or personal). Read these and go out and find somebody better than you, learn everything you can, then find somebody even better and repeat. Good luck!

— read the Eye Magazine article that triggered my post;
— browse my Anobii online library — ask me if you want more recommendations;
— read my reviews of the LogoDesignLove book and other great books;
— check out Designersandbooks — the favourite books of many great designers;
— also worth browsing, Frank Chimero’s and Jason Santa Maria’s book lists.



Lava — Dutch Design Talk At The Design Museum

February 21, 2012, 8:05 AM

Dutch designers are almost by default among the bravest and most inspiring, so there was no way I would’ve missed Mr Hans Wolbers’s talk at the Design Museum last week. Under his helm, Lava Design have produced some great pieces of graphic design and branding over the last 20+ years.

The event's quirky poster and the 'Free Magenta' book

The event started with Mr Wolbers thanking the sponsors and explaining the idea behind the event’s poster. Taking a different approach, the sponsors became the main focus, their gold-foiled logos being repeated several times, while the ‘content’ took a more humble place at the bottom.

Mr Wolber’s simple presentation, white text (using Impact!) on black background, showed nine sections on the table of contents and was announced to have 600+ slides (for 45 minutes). I thought it might actually be a stop-motion film, but Mr Wolber’s delivered a fast paced, very insightful and humorous presentation. ‘A monkey called Bokito’ was the first section, explaining again the Lava philosophy of telling a story in a surprising way. Why show a gorilla (Bokito) when everyone knows how one looks, when the story in the newspaper is about how it managed to get across a big water ditch? So the whole article showed only photos of the ditch, no gorilla.

Design is not about beauty, it is about telling a story

Next was their definition of design: Design is not about beauty. Design is about telling a story. Followed by the Lava ‘corporate’ film, funny and self-deprecating, showing a good sense of humour that was present throughout the whole evening. One example: the founders Hans and Greet names could’ve led to a hilarious Hansel & Gretel company name, but it was not meant to be (the illustration had the packed hall roaring with laughter). Mr Wolbers continued with how, not having a lot of work, he and his partner decided to start with a holiday first. A volcano in Indonesia led them to their name, Lava Design. And a train from Shanghai to Amsterdam provided more than enough time to read one of the ‘Bourne Identity’ books and change the rules of the spies into the designer’s:

  • Think as the enemy client
  • Always stay in control
  • Do the unexpected

Back from holiday, both partners had around 600 meetings in 5 months, 3 per day for each, showing their portfolio to potential clients — this perseverance soon paying off. The fun story around this point: putting on their letterhead Alain Prost’s quote: ‘If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough’ (attributed to Mario Andretti, but with the Internet, you never know) led to an appearance in one of the Rockport books with Mr Prost as the ‘boss’ of the company.

‘If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough’

Next came a collection of photos of weird, funny, vernacular or over-designed toilet signs from all around the world — a growing series for a future book. These supported the point that understanding clichés can help in understanding design as stories and visual communication in general. Btw, If you have any similar photos, Mr Wolbers would be happy to receive them: hans at lava dot nl or contact him on Twitter at @hanswolbers.

A very good tip on how to explain the importance of brand identity to clients followed: using details of Van Gogh paintings, easily recognisable without seeing ‘the logo’ — Vincent’s signature — because of their style, something that a good brand identity should possess.

Visual style versus 'logo' — understanding the difference

The next sections were case studies of LAVA projects. Worth mentioning is that most of them had video presentations, showing animations of the logos with music in the background — I bet this makes things more interesting (and easier to take in) for the client. First was ‘7 days of inspiration’, a flexible identity for a networking event:

'7 days of inspiration' flexible identity

The THNK project, another flexible identity for the Amsterdam school of creative leadership, based on the idea that there is no ‘I” in Think, led to a multitude of I’s coming together and overlapping to form a network:

A flexible visual identity for THNK, the Amsterdam school of creative leadership

The following case study was titled ‘G-Spot’, about a South Korean company called Gabia in need of a new identity. A project started with what seemed like a spam email, but which proved to be a very good lesson on why you should avoid working for a client without knowing their background and paying a visit — they did only after three rejected concepts. The first one relied on four coloured circles, very similar to the very popular billiard signs, present all over the place in Seoul.

The visual identity for the Dutch National History Museum was next — a very simple yet so bold, different and fresh approach. Instead of going for the usual long name or the NHM acronym, they chose the ‘in NL’ name and developed yet another flexible identity, worthy of comparison with the identities of acclaimed art museums like Tate, Pompidou or MoMA:

Connecting the past and the present, the Dutch Museum of National History identity

A similar project but with a different solution, the very fresh identity for the Moscow Design Museum (launched that very morning):

Russian glassware inspiration for a flexible grid …

A visually striking array of symbols, all based on the same grid:

… leading to a multitude of symbols.

“Claiming a colour is nonsense because colors are from God”
— Gert Dumbar

‘Free Magenta’ was the next story — if you’ve missed the total nerve of T-Mobile for claiming the magenta colour as their own a few years ago, read more on the website: Mr Wolbers’s story proved again that designers should (and have the power) put their skills in service of good causes.

The last section was titled ‘How to earn more money’, based around some priceless advice (in the words of Peter Griffin: ‘see what I did here?’):

  • Explain the value of your work creatively — Hans’s business card shows the classic ‘good—cheap—fast’ triangle, of which the clients can only pick two — very simple, very effective and also quite fun;
  • Be market sensitive — good advice on how to adapt to the market, especially during a crisis, as Lava explain on this specially created website:;

A very entertaining story was the one about tenders — most designers’ nightmare. After frustratingly seeing client after client skipping the carefully-written presentations just to go directly to the last page and start complaining about the price, no matter how high or low, Mr Wolbers started to look for a ‘design solution’ to this problem. It came in the shape of three sealed envelopes, one with a ‘cheap’ price inside, one with a medium price and one with a high price. You can imagine the client’s surprise to this approach. They would almost always avoid the cheap one — no one likes to be seen as cheap. That would leave the medium and the expensive. What’s the difference, the client would ask?

Paris in your old, rusty car …

Well, for the medium price, it would be like going to Paris in your old, rusty car …

… is not exactly Paris in a superb Jaguar.

… while for the expensive price, you’d be going to the same Paris, but in a superb Jaguar. The destination is the same, but the necessary time and the experience are quite different. A very smart way to put it, and two out of three clients would go for the expensive package. The ending conclusion: Think creatively not just in design.

Think creatively not just in design.

Questions and answers followed, myself starting by asking whether Lava presents more directions to the client or one, and more after if the first one fails. It seems they present early concepts and involve the client early in the process, choose one direction and develop only that one. Another question made Mr Wolbers confess that he’d love to design an airline (who wouldn’t?). Another good question was whether Lava are specialised or not (from Mr Lee Sankey, see below for link). Their aim is to have/be more ideas people who could direct a team of visual specialists (freelancers). A question about pitches made Mr Wolbers explain the advantages of having a strong Dutch design association (think AIGA), meaning they only take part in paid pitches. Still, he admitted that competition is getting tougher.

Mr Hans Wolbers

Personal note
I’ve taken the time to write all the details I could remember (and recreate some of Mr Wolbers’s examples with images from the web) as this has been probably the most inspiring design presentation I’ve seen ’till now. Dutch design, no matter how beautiful, often seems ‘alien’ and undoable in other places but the Netherlands, but hearing the stories for each case study convinced me that there is no excuse to not doing fresh, surprising work. This review might be on the long side, but I hope it is useful nevertheless. Thanks again to Mr Wolbers and the organisers.

— see more case studies on the Lava website;
— you can follow @LavaDesign and @hanswolbers on Twitter;
— keep an eye on LongLunch and the Design Museum for more events;
— Mr Lee Sankey blogged about the event as well.



Angus Hyland at the Typographic Circle

January 21, 2012, 5:56 PM

Thursday evening saw The Typographic Circle welcoming Angus Hyland from Pentagram. His talk was split in two, first part entitled ‘Symbol’, a slightly shorter version of his talk introducing his same-titled book from last year, presented at Pentagram and Design Museum. Again, a pleasure to hear details about some of the world’s best symbols-as-logos. You can watch the talk from last year on Vimeo, so I won’t say more about it (see end of post for links).

'Symbol', edited by Angus Hyland and Steve Bateman

In the second part, titled ‘Mark & typeface’, Mr Hyland talked about the ongoing partnership between Cass Art, the London art materials retailer, and Pentagram. Over more than ten years, Pentagram have developed a beautiful brand identity, based mainly on typography (with very nice recent additions of colour). Just like most successful brands, Cass Art based its strategy on a very good manifesto/strategy: “let’s fill this town with artists”, being the first aiming to sell affordable art materials to everybody, not just highbrow artists.

The Cass Art store in Soho

Other highlights were the Cass Art Kids side-project, the packaging for own-label products, based on Mr Hyland’s habit of ‘colouring’ bits and pieces in his free time, and the retail design done together with Pentagram’s architecture team. Oh, and after ten years, they finally got around to making the business cards too :)

Cass Art Kids books, illustrated by Marion Deuchars

Each illustration suggest the purpose of the item

Colour names on the front …

… famous art pieces referenced on the back (that use the colours on the front).

The event was sold out, some even being willing to stand just to get to see Mr Hyland’s talk. Questions at the end ranged from the typical-student-question, ‘what’s your favourite symbol’ (Woolmark, if you’re dying to know) to more interesting ones. My question was that since sustained advertising (Nike etc) or just simple repetition (Google) seem to hit the spot with consumers, how valuable is a well-designed mark anyway. Mr Hyland made a very good analogy, saying that a good mark ‘is like a good suit, it won’t guarantee your success, but it will make you look good and feel better, and in time, people will associate you with that image‘ — quite similar to what Thomas J. Watson meant with ‘good design is good business’.

[a good mark] is like a good suit, it won’t guarantee your success, but it will make you look good and feel better, and in time, people will associate you with that image

It was also very interesting to see Mr Hyland using terms like brand equity, brand proposition and others, showing that, these days, even Pentagram has to talk more branding than design.

The Typo Circle members were wonderful hosts and I must say I can’t wait for the next event. And especially to receive the Circular magazine, designed by Mr Domenic Lippa (Pentagram), which you get for free as a member.

One of the four-series posters specially designed for the event, given away at the end (kindly signed by Mr Hyland)

So, if you’re in London (or in reachable distance), do yourself a favour and sign up as a Typographic Circle member, it’s only £30 per year, for which you’ll get discounts for the events, the beautiful annual Circle magazine and the chance to say hi personally to some of the best designers in the world, every month.

— read even more details about the Cass Art project on Eye Mag’s blog;
— see the Cass Art projects on the Pentagram website;
— watch the
‘Symbol’ talk at the Design Museum on Vimeo;
— details about the event on the TypoCircle website and the Creative Review blog;
— you can buy the book ‘Symbol’ on BookDepository (free shipping worldwide) or Amazon.