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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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 Newlyn.com to see Miles’s impressive portfolio and maybe get some of his beautiful typefaces up for sale.

OTHER LINKS

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

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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: www.freemagenta.nl. 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: crisisdesign.nl;

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.

LINKS
— 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.

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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.

LINKS
— 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.

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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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Mind Over Matter: Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways at the Kemistry Gallery

September 4, 2011, 10:27 PM

A simplistic way to describe Alan Fletcher would be to say he is the British Paul Rand.  And one would not be very far from the truth, as their work shows so many similarities, from the witty use of images, words or collages to the memorable handwriting style they both had. And it should be no surprise, as Paul Rand was indeed one of Alan Fletcher’s teachers during his studies at the Yale University, between 1956-1959. Still, as Paul Rand is arguably the most influential American graphic designer, so is Alan Fletcher for the British graphic design.

Alan's beautiful 'Mind over matter' is painted outside the gallery (you can also buy it as poster).

“The Art of Looking Sideways” is probably his most fascinating work, a book collecting thoughts and visuals that had sparked his imagination for almost three decades. The new exhibition at the Kemistry Gallery offers the chance of peeking behind the curtains, exhibiting some of Alan’s original notes, drawings and other materials he did for the book. The pages constantly surprise by their fun, witty or deep analogies made between apparently unrelated elements, making you reconsider the relationships between thinking and looking, telling and showing. The exhibition proves once more that Alan Fletcher’s work is as refreshing and inspiring today as ever.

Small, but you'll be amazed at how much you can see — and learn (click on image for larger size).

Alan's shadow watches over (click on image for larger size).

You’ll most likely lose track of time, reading the diverse notes, cut-out articles, trying to decipher Alan’s drawings, smiling at his puns or learning of his heroes.

Hundreds of stories, all enchanting (click on image for larger size).

His beautiful and distinctive handwriting is ever-present:

This page definitely caught my eye, reminding me yet again about Paul Rand and his eye-bee-M poster:

A wonderful pencil sculpture can be seen on the desk, while Alan’s shadow watches over hundreds of page thumbnails in the large photo that dominates the exhibition:

Plenty more to see, of course. The only gripe I have with the exhibition is that all those pages would’ve looked much better on a dark background, but I guess painting the walls or covering them completely are not easy options for a small gallery. The exhibition is open till October 1, so, if you’re in London, don’t miss it. You can find more details on the Kemistry Gallery’s website. I’d recommend several visits, for better results. And if you don’t have the book yet, get it, there’s no excuse not to.

RELATED LINKS:
— watch Alan Fletcher himself, talking about ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’;
— listen to Colin Forbes (one of the partners with whom Alan founded the famous Pentagram) and read about the Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of work (and play) exhibition, held at the Design Museum in 2006;
— keep an eye on www.alanfletcherdesign.co.uk, hopefully it will be just as good as www.paul-rand.com when it launches.

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Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass — Kemistry Gallery

February 27, 2011, 11:37 AM


Kemistry Galley has come up again with a great exhibition. Titled Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass, it shows several works of the great Saul Bass — posters, storyboards and stills — which toured the world’s film festivals until his death, in 1996. Jim Northover writes how Lloyd Northover ‘inherited’ the exhibits:

A year or so after Saul’s death in 1996, I got a call from a headhunter in the States saying that she had a brief to find someone to take over the Saul Bass studio in Los Angeles. Herb Yager, Saul’s partner, no longer wanted to run it himself, but was keen for the business to continue. Since we had been looking to set up an office in the US, this seemed like a real opportunity. After Herb was reassured that he had found suitable inheritors, the business was acquired. We celebrated the event at a dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Herb, Elaine Bass (Saul’s widow) and some of the team.

A few months later we found we had inherited something else. A travelling exhibition of Saul’s film posters had been doing the rounds of film festivals all over the world. One day it arrived back in London. We had to store it and look after it. We soon realised it was too big and expensive a task to keep it properly, so we handed it on to the British Film Institute, requesting that it should not be lost from public view, and hopefully shown from time to time.

The posters on show, thanks to the BFI, are the very same ones that formed part of the travelling exhibit. They were produced by the Saul Bass studio in the 1990s to celebrate Saul’s work. Many air miles later these historic originals are now on show here.

There are 19 posters on show including: Anatomy of a Murder (1955), The Man with a Golden Arm (1955), Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Vertigo (1958), Exodus (1960), Spartacus (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and a selection of storyboards (the ones from Psycho being a real treat) and title sequences. The exhibition is on till March 17, open Mon–Sat 10.00–18.00, so if you’re in London, don’t miss it.

More photos after the jump (click on the images for larger size).
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Reverting to Type — A Treat from the New North Press

January 17, 2011, 6:05 PM

Held at the Standpoint Gallery, “Reverting to Type” explores the modern execution of letterpress. Curated by Graham Bignell of New North Press and graphic designer Richard Ardagh, the exhibition showcases the work of twenty contemporary letterpress practitioners from around the world, contributions from three leading art colleges and the first eight in an ongoing series of prints with especially invited collaborators.

The show opened on 10th Dec 2010 and it’s still on till 22nd Jan 2011 (this Saturday), so if you’re in London and you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favour and go see it — open daily from 10 to 6.

The beautiful poster and invitation for the exhibition.

Here’s a close-up teaser (more images after the jump):

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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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‘Gastrotypographicalassemblage’ — Lou Dorfsman’s Most Impressive Creation

November 11, 2010, 12:50 AM

Just like the other greats, Lou Dorfsman‘s work is always a pleasure to watch, to analyze, to admire silently, filled with awe. Known mostly for overseeing the identity of the CBS channel for more than 40 years, Lou Dorfsman was a master typographer and designer, involved in all the aspects of CBS’ branding. Luckily, the Shoreditch-based Kemistry Gallery recently held an exhibition presenting one of Dorfsman’s most impressive works, the 11-metre wide handmade wooden typographic wall entitled “Gastrotypographicalassemblage”.

The exhibition's poster

Here are some more details from the gallery’s website (link):

Created during an era when designers were both artisans and well-trained communicators, the wall is the largest modern typographic artefact in existence, described by Michael Bierut as ‘an irreplaceable piece of design history.’ With custom type created by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, the wall contains almost 1500 individual characters.

“There are few pieces that represent the typographic and design spirit that illuminated that moment of history, and certainly none on a scale as ambitious.” — Milton Glaser.

The original wall is still in restoration, but even if finished, moving it would’ve been quite a feat — the gallery showed a large, 1/2 scale print of the wall. Several parts were reproduced in real size, though. Other posters and prints were presented as well, next to a huge plastic CBS logo and an old TV from the wall’s era. More photos after the jump.

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