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

Terence Conran Exhibition at the Design Museum

November 21, 2011, 7:09 AM

Titled “The Way We Live Now”, the new exhibition at the Design Museum marks Sir Terence Conran’s 80th birthday exploring his unique impact on contemporary life in Britain — quite a nice follow-up to the previous Kenneth Grange exhibition — just for fun, one might argue who had more impact on the modern Britain. As the Design Museum statement says, Conran has transformed the British way of life through his own design work, and also through his entrepreneurial flair. As well as this, his design studio and architectural practice have a world wide reach. The exhibition traces his career from post-war austerity through to the new sensibility of the Festival of Britain in the 1950s, the birth of the Independent Group and the Pop Culture of the 1960s, to the design boom of the 1980s and on to the present day.

I managed to shoot from the hip a few photos, hence the poor quality, but I hope it’s enough to give you an idea, and maybe even go see it:

A nice custom typeface for titles:

Among others, this Bibendum-inspired chair was definitely one of my favourites, proving yet again that playful design is always a delight to experience:

Chair inspired by Bibendum, or The Michelin Man

Mr Conran’s working office — much warmer than Mr Vignelli’s, one might argue:

Now, whose dream house wouldn’t have racing cars on the wall?

Simple & modern stationery and imagery, depicting Conran’s ‘form follows function’ approach :

There are many more gems to discover, but this one was another favourite (click to enlarge):

The exhibition is open from 16 November till 04 March 2012, so if you’re in London, give it a go, it’s surely worth it. You can learn more on the Design Museum page for the exhibition.

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More about Paul Rand & Steve Jobs

October 17, 2011, 10:11 AM

Too bad it’s no longer a metaphor to say that Paul Rand & Steve Jobs are a match made in heaven, but that’s the way it is. Back in 1986, Steve Jobs got special permission from IBM to commission Paul Rand to design the logo for his new computer company, NeXT. In his typical, no-nonsense fashion, Paul Rand made a small booklet with the logo’s presentation. Mr Steven Heller kindly posted a page from his ‘Design Dialogues’ book where Mr Rand talks about how the logo came to be, and also shares scans of the original booklet. He also says that ‘Rand waited in his hotel room for Jobs’ response’. However, Mr Rand himself tells a different version in Michael Kroeger’s ‘Paul Rand, Conversations with Students’ book:

For example, Steve Jobs of NeXT is a very tough client. If he doesn’t like something, you hand it to him and he says “that stinks”. There is no discussion. On the other hand, I was lucky enough, I suppose, when I did the logo for him. After he saw the presentation of it, he got up — we were all at his house, sitting on the floor, you know, Hollywood style, with the fireplace going, hot as hell outside. [laughter] He got up and looked at me and said, “Can I hug you.” Now that is overcoming a conflict between the client and the designer.
— Paul Rand

You can read that on page 55, as you can see below:

Paul Rand talking about his meeting with Steve Jobs (click to enlarge)

His NeXT presentation is also shown in his book, ‘Design Form and Chaos’, published in 1993, together with five other presentations he did for The Limited,  IBM, AdStar, IDEO and Morningstar. In his 1996 book, ‘From Lascaux to Brooklyn’, he shows four more presentations, designed for Okasan, EF English First, Hub TV and Cummins Engine Company. All are a treat to see, my favourites being EF English First, Hub TV and, of course, the classic IBM. As a side note, the Cummins presentation shows a classic case of ‘container branding’, which seems to be quite popular these days. Mr Rand did it in 1973, so nothing’s new, again.

Paul Rand books, all well worth reading and adding to your library

Now, I remember reading another story told by Mr Rand about a client (woman), who, after the presentation, Rand having told her the Steve Jobs story, she asked “Can I kiss you?” Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the source, but I’ll keep searching.

Later update:
I’ve managed to find a source for the second part of the story, told by John Maeda:

He then relayed a separate story about work for a different client where there was a similar eager acceptance of his presentation booklet, at which time the client (a female) asked Rand, “Can I kiss you?” And Rand replied “Sure.” He then commented, “You should be sure to tell your clients stories of what previous clients have done (in reference to the Jobs story). That way they try to one up the last client.”

 

FURTHER READING

— Mr Heller’s ‘Paul Rand + Steve Jobs’ article on Imprint, showing the NeXT booklet;
John Maeda’s recollection of Paul Rand’s MIT lecture, published in IDEA Magazine;
— My book review of ‘Paul Rand, Conversations with Students’;
— Stuart Watson (from VentureThree) writes about ‘container branding’ over the years on his blog, ‘Visual Shizzle’;
— David Airey (LogoDesignLove) and Antonio Carusone (AisleOne) also mention the NeXT logo.

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The Scribble, probably the best designers’ logo ever

April 28, 2011, 12:25 PM

Logos come in all shapes and sizes, some good, some bad, some real crap. Few of them can be called great. Creative Review recently took on the challenge of making a Top 20 logos issue. I know, making lists and top charts is a bit tricky (some would say even childish), as you can hardly compare apples and pears — but still, it’s fun to do and a good excuse to talk about some beautiful pieces of graphic design history. Their no. 1, the Woolmark logo is without doubt one of the best ever, a true gem, with an equally interesting story. The others are also great classic logos, like the Deutsche Bank’s, the British Rail’s, Michelin’s, V&A’s and many others.

Top branding and design companies rarely have ‘interesting’ logos. While some prefer to simply make use of classic typefaces like Modern No. 20 or Centennial (see Pentagram, Interbrand, Saffron or Landor), others write their name with whatever they can find in the kitchen. After all, making a logo for a company that does just that for a living is not an easy task — and we all know how we’re usually our own worst clients.

So how can a simple scribble be probably the best designers’ logo? Read on to find out.

» Continue reading

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Feelings (Jausmai)

April 9, 2011, 1:11 PM

Eye Magazine posted an interesting article on their blog, Back in the USSR, about film posters from Lithuania’s Soviet years. I just couldn’t help taking note of this wonderful Japanese-print-inspired poster for a film called ‘Jausmai’ (Feelings):

Feelings (Jausmai), dir. Algirdas Dausa and Almantas Grikevičius, 1968. Designed by Vytautas Valius.

Be sure to check the Eye Blog for more.

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Michael Wolff on The Three Muscles of Creativity

April 2, 2011, 12:33 PM

Intel has come up again with a beautiful short film in their Visual Life series. This time is about the iconic designer Michael Wolff, co-founder of Wolff Olins, one of the best British designers ever and one of the fathers of brand identity design.

I have three muscles, without which I couldn’t do my work. The first is curiosity. (You can call it inquisitiveness, you can call it questioning.) The second muscle [is] the muscle of appreciation. It’s not questioning so much as it is noticing… how joyful things can be, how colorful things can be, what already exists as an inspiration. The muscle of curiosity and the muscle of appreciation enable the muscle of imagination.

Everybody knows that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What few people realize it is only through the parts that the whole gets delivered. I see seeing as a muscular exercise, like I see curiosity. It’s a kind of being open, really: If you walk around with a head full of preoccupation, you’re not going to notice anything in your visual life.

A brand is really a way of remembering what something is like for future reference — something you value, something you feel attracted to. The job of a brand identity, how you package all of that — the purpose, the vision, what it does, what it brings — how you make that so that people can take it and receive it and value it and treasure it and choose it, that’s the whole process of branding. That’s what it is.”

— Michael Wolff

The film is beautifully shot, with a perfect pace & score, all adding even more value to Michael Wolff’s wise words. As one would imagine, his house is a designer’s playground, with Pantone mugs and other treats, like this beautiful tea kettle, that I wish I knew where to get:

Also, gotta love Wolff’s hilarious description of the classic Cooper Black typeface, affectionately calling it  “cow dong”. And last but not least, I love how he talks about cooking as related to creativity — “you never cook the same meal twice”. But enough with the spoilers, here it is:

Read more:
— “The Three Muscles of Creativity” by Maria Popova on the TBD Blog;
— “Michael Wolff on Creativity” by David Airey;
Thanks TheInspiration.com for the first tip.

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Harry Pearce, “The Schizophrenic Road” — a lecture on keeping your soul alive

December 5, 2010, 8:41 PM

Even if it took place a little over a week ago, Pentagram-partner Harry Pearce‘s lecture titled “The Schizophrenic Road — Part 2: A design journey from a road in west London to a tree in Zanzibar” still echoes in my head, pushing me to launch some of my personal projects that I keep postponing constantly. But about that later.

Held at the Institute of Education’s Logan Hall (filled up to the last row) and hosted by Harry’s friend and D&AD president, Sanky, the lecture was divided in five parts:

  1. Look Both Ways
  2. Free the Word
  3. Little Sister
  4. Night Vision
  5. Street Alchemy

Sanky was first on stage, introducing his friend and telling a short story on how they met, waiting for an airplane to India, sharing their thoughts. The story was continued by Harry, saying how the sudden friendship between “two designers on free-fall” began in the airport’s waiting lounge and how he found enlightenment in India, while his partner, Paula Scher, only “got shit”, as she would later tell him.

Harry’s design journey started with a 440,000 year-old piece of stone, found on the bottom of the sea in one of his holidays. Thinking at first that it’s just an interesting-looking stone, he later realised, as the stone fit perfectly in hand, that it was actually an ancient tool, one of the early manifestations of design — and what an efficient design!

A 440,000 year-old axe.

1. LOOK BOTH WAYS

I bet that few were those in the hall that didn’t envy Harry for his friendship with Alan Fletcher. To have such a great mind as a mentor and close friend, what a blessing. Alan Fletcher was the one that encouraged Harry to keep collecting the occasional photos he took of signs all over the place. Starting from a road in West London to a tree in Zanzibar (hence lecture’s title — the sign on the tree said “Heaven Café & Restaurant”, pointing the direction, but as one nail was lost, the sign now humorously pointed towards the sky — too bad I didn’t take a picture of that), these signs later led to the creation of Harry’s “Conundrums” project and book (a long and intricate story for that as well). Funny thing here is that even though Alan advised Harry to keep taking the photos, he didn’t — he started only after Alan asked for the photos to put them in the “The Art of Looking Sideways” book. When Harry told him he didn’t have anymore, Alan replied that he had 3 weeks to get a double page spreads worth (story told in another presentation).

Road signs

"...looking at the world in a slightly off way."

The important thing to remember is that Alan Fletcher said this was Harry’s “looking at the world in a slightly off way”, something we all should try to achieve if we want to keep our creative spirit alive.

2. FREE THE WORD

The second part was about some of Harry’s projects, all of them based on typography as the chosen medium. The first ones were PEN International’s beautiful identity and “26 Exchanges“, both about “language bringing cultures together”, the last one presented during the Design Festival in 2009 (Sanky also being part of it). The main idea was to get 26 western writers together with 26 foreign ones and have them talk to each other, expressing their art emotionally rather than through translations.

Next were 52 Cards, typographic posters for Macbeth, Doll’s House, Modern British Sculpture, Roy Harper, Lippa Pearce (Harry and Domenic Lippa’s studio before they joined Pentagram — Domenic was in the audience as well). Another interesting project was the Dana Centre visual identity, where “typography [ended up] growing with the building”. All the projects proved once more how good typography can create powerful images. Few would forget the Macbeth poster, with it’s large title written in blood (you can view some of the other works at the end of the article).

3. LITTLE SISTER

The Haiti visual, yet another of Harry's striking works.

The big surprise of the evening was Harry inviting Peter Gabriel on stage. For almost twenty years, they have both been involved in humanitarian projects, namely Witness, the organisation that uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations, co-founded by Peter Gabriel. He talked about the organization’s goals, achievements, almost bringing the audience to tears (and Harry as well) through his moving, real-life stories. His modest, simple and direct way of speaking was admirable.

Peter Gabriel on stage.

Some of Harry’s most powerful works have been done for humanitarian purposes, like the Burma or Infantry posters (more than enough proof that design can help change the world):

The Burma poster was actually carried on the streets by the Burmese people during their protests.

Another project presented was The Hub, also part of Witness, the place to upload any videos showing human rights violations. Harry talked about how technology’s rapid development has helped people, being so easy these days to share videos with the help of a simple mobile phone. This part ended in a moment of silence, held in the memory of Natalya Estemirova, a Russian human rights activist and reporter shot and killed in 2009 because of her constant effort in telling the world of the atrocities happening in Chechnya. I guess the part’s title was also an homage to her, as initially this would’ve been called “Little Brother” (“Little brother turning the camera on Big Brother”, as Harry explains).

4. NIGHT VISION

The fourth part was about dreams, Harry mentioning “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by C. G. Jung and talking about the journals documenting his dreams and how they have later influenced or actually developed in some of his work projects (one example being the Anish Kapoor exhibition in 2009). He talked about one of his friends, a musician, whose guitar singing tried to resemble “the flight of a butterfly”, Harry’s foretelling dream from a few nights before ending in the words “until the last butterfly”. He also mentioned Stefan Sagmeister‘s sabbatical year practice (Harry being good friends with him) and the benefits of taking time off, traveling — Harry being a huge fan of India and the East in general.

Stefan Sagmeister's poster on dreams

This fourth part ended with a humorous conclusion, showing Stefan Sagmeister’s “My Dreams have no meaning” work (part of his book/project “Things I have learned in my life so far“, also a magazine cover designed for the Centre Pompidou in Paris). Stefan sent this to Harry, to which he replied with a similarly-designed poster:
“But Harry’s do.”

5. STREET ALCHEMY

Harry Pearce and Alan Fletcher

The last part of the event returned to Alan Fletcher and Harry’s photographs again, on a more personal note, Harry telling of his last meetings with Alan before his death. Also touched during the Q&A, Harry reminded all of us how important is keeping a child-like openness of heart, one of the traits Alan Fletcher and his work so easily seemed to benefit from.

His presentation ended with this beautiful dedication from his mentor:

A PERSONAL CONCLUSION

All in all, a very inspiring event. I think the most important thing that I’ve (re)learned is that one must always keep feeding the creative soul, especially through personal projects. Maybe you like collecting old typewriters, maybe you enjoy photography, maybe you like to get your hands dirty with clay modelling, pottery, sculpture or even carpentry or maybe you simply enjoy some good old pencil drawing. It does not matter, just as long as you get away from your daily work (and I would definitely add getting away from the computer) and let your mind roam free. The Design Challenge project was born from a similar need, with the help of a few friends (hopefully, it’ll start again with the new year). I’ve also been thinking of a new project for weeks now, something more personal, more like a daily exercise to keep your muscles fit — Harry’s lecture really helped in pushing this project up to the top of my to do list.

Looking forward to more inspiring events. Thank you, Harry.


Main sources (besides my own notes and photos):
Pearcing Thoughts, on Design Week (subscription required);
Pentagram at the Design Museum on Noisy Decent Graphics;
— AIGA’s blog on Harry’s first lecture;
— AIGA Flickr slideshow with some of Harry’s works.


Later update: you can now watch Harry’s very similar presentation for Design Indaba. Got two clearer images as well, the first being the tree in Zanzibar with the witty sign, the second with Alan Fletcher’s drawing:

A witty sign from Zanzibar.

Alan Fletcher's drawing for Harry.

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Another Designer Burning in Hell

November 11, 2010, 9:28 AM

A few days ago while mindlessly strolling through a supermarket aisle (sadly, not even we, designers, are immune to consumerism), an American-fast-food-screaming package drew my attention on the shelves. But, to my horror, it wasn’t for a fast-food product — it was for jelly sweets.

Joking or not, this piece of design certainly deserves a 13th step in Milton Glaser’s 12 Steps on the Road to Hell. What are the chances of a healthy life for an 8-year old that grew up innocently enjoying some diabolically-burger-shaped jellies?

However, the most worrying question is this:

Would I do it?

What if the client is a long trusted one, brings in a lot of good business, but can’t be convinced? What if this is the first project you get as a freelancer in a few weeks/months now (recession is not over yet, as we all know)? What if you simply can’t afford to reject this project?

Scary, isn’t it?

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Designing for Retail Brands: 6 Key Considerations

September 12, 2010, 11:20 AM

An article written in collaboration with Adam Rotmil — a fruitful exchange of ideas and a refreshing experience. Also available on the Adam Rotmil Partners blog.

Companies that have a strong retail presence require a powerful, memorable, and positive brand. It must be different from the competition and visible in the urban space. These are six things we have learned.

1. HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
Even with the most visible, most advertised brands, it’s about a positive experience. Big media purchases may bring a spike in sales, but does that equate to positive reputation? Brand engagement with company employees has shown more long-term value. Having your own mini-army of proud, confident and helpful employees means connecting with customers at the most vital touchpoint: human contact. While price is one major element in customers’ decisions, most of us would rather go where we feel we are treated better, even if it costs a little more. For this to happen, employees must understand the brand and feel like part of its culture. Take for instance Apple. With rare exception, they’ll do almost everything to earn your satisfaction. Even if that means bending rules. It is a proven axiom that the most effective advertising is positive word-of-mouth. With the advent of social media, this is even more the case.

2. PLAN FOR TRAFFIC WITHIN THE RETAIL SPACE.
Where do you want customers to go first? Graphic elements are valuable in wayfinding, helping the customer get what he wants faster. But think about why grocery stores put the milk in the back. It’s so you’ll spend more time inside, discovering more, and buying more. Think about IKEA and their amusement-park approach to retail spaces. People who shop there feel that the space is meant for them, that they can stay as long as they like, and have everything they need.

3. COMPETITION INFORMS COLOR CHOICES.
Choosing colors requires first investigating the brand’s competition. What’s the most used color? the second? What’s the primary color of the biggest competitor? For food products, red might be the easiest color to spot. If everyone else is using red, doing the same thing can be a missed opportunity. Using blue often makes sense, since it is liked by men and women and implies trust. But, it may not help you stand out if most other brands are using blue. It is an important balance for the brand to look like what it is (whether coffee or life insurance), and to stand out. Some of the most memorable brands, such as Kodak, have colors that same-class competitors do not. And when I say Kodak, you instantly recall the Kodak yellow. When you think Cisco, you recall the Cisco teal.

4. THE BIGGER, THE BIGGER.
Does size really matter (in retail)? Many clients ask for “the bigger, the better strategy.” These people are smart business owners. And big does work, at least in theory. But, check if it really helps. Urban spaces are extremely crowded most of the time. Imagine a completely white fascia or a large mesh ad on a building. Everything around it would be all images and big type. But you’d be the quiet space everybody would turn to. You’d stand out because you’re different: you’re not shouting. Designer Bruno Monguzzi reminds us, “If you continue shouting, you are not communicating better. You have simply removed whispering from the system.” Think about the Beatles’ release of The White Album. When it hit retail stores, it was an oasis.

5. ARE YOU IGNORING SENSORY CUES?
Best-in-class brands have cues that can be dialed up or down. These cues include the senses. Everyone can recognize a Tiffany’s box. Failing to integrate lighting, color, shape, touch — even smell — means missing opportunities. Developing brand properties, or attributes, is the best way to gain top-of-mind relevance in your customers’ minds. It also gives customers a beacon toward the brand. The shape and color of Sephora’s striped entrance, for instance, makes it easy to recognize from far away. Lighting is sometimes more important than the logo outside or the posters in the windows. The flooring is an opportunity to connect with customers emotionally. How does it feel: cold, soft, textured, solid, reliable? These attribute choices will influence how the customer feels about the brand, and how they will remember the retail experience. Remember stepping inside an Adidas shop. You know the smell, you recognize it right away. Memory takes many forms. It starts with specific experiences and gradually crystalizes to a general association with a bundle of promises and expectations. Triggers to recall these memories include scents, music, materials, lighting, furniture, being offered a cup of tea, and more with a well-thought retail brand.

6. BATHWATER GOES. BABY STAYS.
New brands usually start from zero, with the luxury of getting it right in the first place. Redesigned brands, however, are much more complicated and require caution. Unless a brand is toxic, don’t throw out the brand’s entire DNA. The core of its visual identity has gained years of equity. The essence of brand properties (colors, symbols, a mascot,…) may be of great service to the revitalized brand. With Cisco, the bridge-in-a-box became a more open and abstract symbol. But the core DNA of the bridge, all of its implications, and the literal connection to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, remain. Reinventing a brand, while keeping the merits it has earned, helps ensure customer loyalty, while expanding the customer base.

Many of the general principles about brand strategy and design apply to designing for retail. But these are some considerations we think you should bear in mind. These are just starting points. Talk about these issues with your colleagues and your clients. We hope this helps you build a better brand expression.

Iancu Barbărasă is an experienced graphic designer specialised in brand identity design. He has previously worked for the leading Romanian branding and design company Brandient, taking part in large rebranding projects like Dedeman and CEC Bank, internationally awarded (Best of Awards and Merit at Rebrand, 2009, Rhode Island, USA). His experience covers a multitude of design fields, from identity, retail, packaging to print and web design. As of September 2010, he is living and working in London, UK. Iancu believes that good, idea-driven design means good business and a more enjoyable life for everyone.

Contact Iancu via E-mail
Visit Iancu on the web at www.iancul.com

Adam Rotmil runs the Japan office of Adam Rotmil Partners, specializing in brand strategy and design. He has 15 years of brand and design experience with companies of all sizes. He held a senior creative position at Marsh and McClennan Companies, the premier global services firm. Adam later designed at Brown Brothers Harriman, the largest private bank in the United States. Adam lives in Japan and partners with experts worldwide, sharing projects and talent. His singular vision is to improve brand value through strategy, exploration, and discovery. Adam knows good work implies social awareness, dedication, honesty, and integrity.

Contact Adam via E-mail
Visit Adam on the web at www.adamrotmil.com

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Proud as I can be: Brandient 101 — The book

March 28, 2010, 1:47 AM

Later note: even if it is filed in the ‘Book reviews’ category, this is not one in itself — it is more of an announcement of the book’s launching, as I was involved in it too.

Rarely have I been so proud to be a designer as I am now. Two days ago, Brandient launched “Brandient 101”, the first book dedicated to Romanian brand design (limited edition of 101, signed).

I’ve been part of more than a handful of projects presented in the book, all of them being great experiences, from which I’ve learned a lot — the more difficult, the bigger the challenge and, of course, the reward. Working at Brandient for the last 3 years has been the real school that formed me as a designer (a brand designer, to be more precise, or a communication designer, as Mr. Erik likes to say), learning from and with my colleagues on all occasions, stressful or not (I found out over the years that the bigger the pressure, the faster you learn & work — of course, too much pressure is never a good thing, but one can never underestimate a designer’s ‘magical’ ability of pulling the ship around on the right track while the client is already ringing at the door :P) .

The book is designed by Cristian -Kit- Paul, Brandient’s Creative Partner, one of the best Romanian designers and also a great photographer — definitely follow him on Kit·blog. He’s also a very skilled speaker, another example that being a great designer is not only about drawing well-thought logos & identities, but also about explaining them, about promoting design as a business tool and last but not least, about teaching and inspiring the others.

But enough with the raves, here it is:

» Continue reading

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