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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My taste is why my work disappoints me

October 19, 2011, 7:37 AM

A thought-provoking piece, something that should probably be read as a mantra each morning, titled “Your taste is why your work disappoints you”:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have that special think that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one story. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through.
— Ira Glass

In short, there is no easy way out. You have to sweat over everything you do if you want it to be any good. Of course, you need talent just to have a real chance of getting somewhere in what you’re doing, but that will only get you as far as ‘decent’ — you need perseverance to make it to the ‘good’ section. And, with a bit of luck, you might even see a glimpse of ‘great’.

It felt like a small epiphany reading this — too often I’ve found myself unhappy with my work. I’ve always thought that a good way of learning is to watch others how they do it. And it was, for me at least. I would often surprise my college friends by being able to work in their style after watching them do just one or two drawings. But watching is not enough. It can break the ice for you, but if you want to make it to the shore, you’re on your own, with no one to help you. You have to go through it alone, fighting your own damned self. Beacons (mentors, colleagues, other sources of inspiration) might guide you awhile now and then, but most of the time, you’re in the dark, swimming for your very soul. You do get better with age if you keep going, but your best chance is to barely make it to the shore when you die. Any other way is just Sirens fucking with your mind. If you ever think “It’s easy, I know how to do this”, they’ve probably got you.

You do get better with age if you keep going, but your best chance is to barely make it to the shore when you die. Any other way is just Sirens fucking with your mind.

The quote is a transcript from a video interview with Glass, the “On Taste…” part. You can watch it here on Youtube. Via Untitled Mag, Kottke.

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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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Thank you, Steve

October 6, 2011, 7:42 AM

Feels like losing a dear family member. Thank you, Steve.

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose,” … “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” — Steve Jobs

Sorry Mr Glaser for borrowing your idea, I’m sure you’d understand.

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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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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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‘It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little’ — John Ruskin

April 13, 2011, 10:18 AM

This is a must-read for everyone, except maybe hard-working humans that grow their own food and don’t have a bank account (and I’m sure even they do a bit of trading, even if it’s with livestock or grain):

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

— Known as the Common Law of Business Balance often attributed to John Ruskin. John Ruskin was an English art critic and social thinker, also remembered as a poet and artist. His essays on art and architecture were extremely influential in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

•••

“… I ask [the money] for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”

As a side note, John Ruskin was also involved in a famous trial with Whistler, the American-born British-based painter. Whistler sued him after Ruskin was publicly less impressed by one of his paintings. Here’s an interesting dialogue during the trial, between Whistler and Ruskin’s lawyer:

Holker: “Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?”
Whistler: “Oh, I ‘knock one off’ possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it…” [the painting measures 24 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches]
Holker: “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?”
Whistler: “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”

Picasso also said pretty much the same, a bit later on.

Via Quote Vadis; photograph taken from ILoveIndia.com.

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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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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).
» Continue reading

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Ed Rondthaler on English spelling — Brilliant short

February 3, 2011, 10:02 AM

A wonderful short movie, showing the renowed Ed Rondthaler talking about how “logic” English spelling is. I love how humorously he presents the facts, reminds me a bit of Milton Glaser‘s quirky way of doing presentations.

Ed Rondthaler on English spelling from Bob Smartner on Vimeo.

/via Anton Mircea (Facecrook‘s father)

And while we’re at it, here are quite a few spelling poems, playing on the absurdity of the English language — The English Spelling Society: Spelling poems.

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