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

Hustling the greats — cheap bravado or a genuine “naked emperor” shout?

January 28, 2011, 12:41 PM

While reading Adrian Shaughnessy’s interesting review of Kenneth FitzGerald’s Volume: Writing on Graphic Design, Music, Art and Culture book (on the Design Observer), a paragraph caught my attention especially:

It’s not only his students FitzGerald wants to refrain from gazing admiringly at the great and the good of the design world. His own combative approach to criticism means that he doesn’t shy away from roughing up representatives of design’s elite: Alan Fletcher (“The Art of Looking Sideways … a formless data-dump of quotations, aphorisms, diagrams, reproductions, commentaries, and folderol”); John Maeda (“sterile, programmed ornamentation”); Paul Rand (… students will become even more marginalized and disenchanted with their work and status if they attempt to define themselves by Rand’s fallacies); and Stefan Sagmeister (“Made you Look … a fatiguing compendium of almost every optical, production, and advertising-creative artifice devised since Gutenberg”).

I don’t think I need to tell you that this is the design’s equivalent of whistling bare-assed inside the church on a Sunday morning. Does Mr FitzGerald really mean that? Or is he just saying it to shock and draw attention? What should we believe in then, if role models or mentors are over-rated? It’s easy to say “do your own thing”, but so few of us can actually do that.

It has always been one of the best ways to get fast on top (either in gang fights or in public opinion): pick someone bigger than you — hell, pick the biggest of them all — and make him bite the dust. Should you succeed, you’re the man (until another does it to you, of course). Should you loose, do it in style and at least you’ve made the news — more or less.

It seems these days that almost everybody worships individualism. You can see it in almost everything — large businesses are slowly fragmenting, everybody tries to be a “freelancer”, everybody wants to be their own boss — an understandable thing, after all, who likes to take orders all day?. Marriages are shorter and shorter, single parentage slowly gains ground and becomes the “normal” way of growing up a kid. It’s all fine-tuning as the ultimate self-centred society. A planet of “every man for himself only”. Well, to be more precise, a “western” civilisation of loners. And these days — go figure — most of them (us) seem so bewitched by iStuff.

Well, if Mr FitzGerald wanted attention, he’s surely got it. And maybe that’s a good thing. Shouting out that “the emperor is naked” might prove a lie, but it did make you look thoroughly, didn’t it? I still think that apprenticeship as a way of learning was one of the good things we lost during the last fifty years. Having role-models can be very useful, but only as long as we never forget that role-models are meant to be surpassed.

As post scriptum, the cover of the book looks rather nice:

And while we’re at it, here’s another quote from Mr FitzGerald’s book:

It is a delusion that the activity of fine artists is divorced from commercial considerations. It isn’t even a matter of degree. All that separates art and design is the kind of marketplace one chooses to operate in.

Now that’s something with which I totally agree.

Further reading & links:
• Adrian Shaughnessy’s review of the book on the Design Observer;
• Kenneth FitzGerald’s blog post about his book.

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Paul Rand: Conversations with Students — Book review

January 2, 2011, 9:52 PM

«Everything is design. Everything!» … «It is important to use your hands, this is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.»

Starting with bold, very Rand-like quotes, Paul Rand: Conversations with Students, written by Michael Kroeger, is a small book divided in two parts: first, the conversations themselves, from February 1995 (first between Kroeger and Paul, together with his wife Marion, then between Rand and students from the School of Design, Arizona State University) and second, five homages from designers that had the privilege of studying with him closely. The author himself had the privilege of an individual one-week session in Brissago, Switzerland — as did Phillip Burton, Armin Hoffman, Herbert Matter and Wolfgang Weingart (also the book’s Foreword writer).

» Continue reading

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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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Solving problems — On Stray Dogs and David Abbot’s excellence in advertising

December 1, 2010, 4:20 PM

Browsing around from one article to another on Mike Dempsey’s excellent blog, one poster really knocked me off my chair: an ad done by David Abbot for a RSPCA unwanted dogs awareness campaign back in the 70s (I think):

The reason why this poster struck me so hard is that most Romanian cities have had this problem for decades now, stray dogs wandering around almost everywhere (it actually feels strange not seeing any stray dogs since I’ve moved to London, after being so used to them in Bucharest). Some of them are living on the mercy of various people, becoming something like a neighbourhood’s dog, usually having a rag to sleep on near the entrance of the block of flats where his benefactors live, while others just prey on whatever they can find through garbage. Most of them are beggingly friendly, wagging their tails in hope of a small piece of bread for their backbone-glued stomach, few are aggressive and rarely attack (like in the case of the unlucky Japanese man that died a few years ago after being bit by a stray dog).

Anyway, the above poster shows yet again how effective good advertising can be, as I’m sure something like this would have great impact even with the ever-untrusting and uncaring-enough Romanians. But unfortunately, Romanian advertising is just as bland and afraid of shocking — therefore delivering the message — as the people that it’s meant for (and I’m ashamed to say that some of that social-numbness has rubbed off on me as well — hopefully, living in the UK will cure that in time). Problem-solving advertising (and design, too) has become rare these days, as the majority seems to be much more interested in following trends and looking / talking just like the competitors. Those that dare stray from the well-known path are usually labeled as fools and booed in public (Wolff Olins seem to enjoy this, though :) ).

I’d really love to see this kind of bold ads in Romania (and not only), as there are so many problems that people need to wake up to. But the brave ones to approve such work are yet to come.


You should definitely read Mr. Dempsey’s beautiful article about David Abbott’s career: David Abbott, A Man of Letters. There are a few other great ads to see as well, and his career is truly inspiring.

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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.

» Continue reading

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On succes with three top creatives — or how designers & photographers can be a lot funnier than Seinfeld

March 15, 2010, 12:22 AM

If you ever thought that a bounch of old creatives couldn’t be even half funnier than Jerry Seinfeld, you’re dead wrong. Watch Michael Wolff, Erik Spiekermann and Oliviero Toscani ‘chit-chatting’ about success in one of the DBA‘s The Edge talks:

_

Knowing Mr. Toscani’s work and the fact that he’s such a flamboyant italian (say what you will, but the obviousness of their nationalities is very funny), it’s no wonder how easily he steals the show, giving headaches to Erik and Wolff :)) Every gesture is priceless, and the bit about the European union just made me burst into tears laughing :))

Here’s a favourite quote from Toscani: “Creative Director? Not even God directed creativity.” And while I’m at it, one wise word from Mr. Wolff: “Our species is both as brilliant and as thick as it’s possible to imagine.”

/via Sorin Bechira, i think :)

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Saul Bass On Making Money vs Quality Work

January 20, 2010, 1:19 PM

“It costs every designer money to make beautiful [things]…”
—Saul Bass

Wow. All those nights of madly trying to find the right shape, the right colour or the best proportions don’t seem so insanely wasted now. Beautiful things just take time. Sometimes you succeed in making them, sometimes you don’t. Many times you feel like quitting. But it’s all part of being a designer. We all have our ups and downs. The important thing is to keep searching, pushing yourself to do something better, more beautiful, wittier, to keep learning more and more.

Luckily, we have the great ones to remind us why we do this:


(via the silver lining)

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Michael Bierut shares 5 secrets from 86 notebooks

October 27, 2009, 12:49 AM

It’s always so inspiring to listen to Michael Bierut. This time he talks about five things, ‘five secrets’ he’s learned while working, and he shares them while explaining five relevant projects:

If you’re lazy or just here for a quick reminder, here are the five:
• Listen first, then design
• Don’t avoid the obvious
• The problem contains the solution
• Indulge your obsessions
• Love is the answer

Use them wisely :)

(via designobserver)

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Kit Hinrichs leaves Pentagram

October 3, 2009, 3:30 PM

1_Hinrichs_portrait

After Robert Brunner left Pentagram’s San Francisco office to start his own firm, Ammunition, this time is Kit Hinrichs‘ turn. You can read the press release here, on @Issue (where Kit Hinrichs is the Design Director). Kit’s profile on Pentagram Partners has already been taken down.

Pentagram in 1986

Pentagram in 1986

While Robert Brunner’s departure seemed to make a little more sense, as his studio seems to be focused more on industrial design than on communication and corporate design, Kit’s departure is not so clear. The press release doesn’t give any hints, and, as always in such cases, nobody involved will—we can only speculate what could possibly make you leave one of the most acclaimed (if not the most) companies in the world—and after 24 years, mind you. Has this been triggered by the recession? Is it a personal dispute? Is Mr. Colin Forbes‘ business model not working so well anymore? Or is it just the right time for a change for Mr. Hinrichs? We’ll never know for sure.

One thing I know, it makes me feel sad to learn about Mr. Kit’s departure—I don’t know why, maybe because Pentagram loses one of its own—but I also feel glad for him. I know very well how good it feels to try something new, especially after such a long time. It feels like being born again. Good luck to Mr. Hinrichs.

(second photo taken from Pentagram: The Compendium)

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