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

One Plain, One Fancy

December 5, 2011, 8:39 PM

The nice fellows at MatDolphin are running a simple but fun project called One Plain, One Fancy — the title is quite explanatory, but the submissions are often surprising. Here’s my take on it:

I took the photos on Cavendish and Regent’s Street in London, using Instagram on an iPhone 4. The second one was quite a surprise, as it’s just a 5-min-walk away from the first one.

You can see more of my photos on Instagram (Statigram, actually, as Instagram doesn’t have a web interface — *hint, guys!*). You can also follow me on Twitter, as you can follow 1Plain1Fancy for updates.



“Do you draw for fun anymore?”

November 27, 2011, 11:56 AM

As I get used to the inevitability of being 30 next spring, I can no longer call myself a ‘beginner’, but I also don’t feel that my experience so far has made me significantly more confident or ‘great’ in my work. Even if Mr Saul Bass provides a bit of comfort — “… the good news, I say to students, is that what you are experiencing is exactly what everybody else experiences, even those people you most admire. The bad news is that it doesn’t get any better” — I’m still searching for at least a faint feeling of being on ‘the right path’.

I’ve been reading some great books lately, but also picking up bits and pieces that feel ‘right’, building something almost like a ‘widsom’ puzzle. One of the pieces was the “your taste is why your work disappoints you” quote from Mr Ira Glass that I wrote about a few weeks ago. This time it’s a talk from Mrs Lynda Barry, on the topic of “What is an image?”. It’s hugely entertaining, very insightful, makes you think, but, most importantly, makes you want to pick up a pencil and start drawing just for fun, just playing, and do it as often as possible.

But I’ll let you enjoy it:

Here are the links too, in case the embedding doesn’t work: part 1 & part 2.

Thanks go to Mr Austin Kleon — do follow him.
Saul Bass quote from the new book, read about it on the Creative Review.



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.



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.



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.”



— 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.



How to overwrite iCloud & recover your lost iCal data

October 16, 2011, 2:30 AM

I’ve been using MobileMe for more than two years, so I’ve gotten used to having my calendars and my contacts synced all the time between my iPhone and my Macbook Pro. It was pricey, but except for a few problems in the beginning, it worked well. A few days ago, when Apple made available their new iOS5 and iCloud, I upgraded, anxious to try the new features and see what usability gems Apple have hidden all throughout their new products. In spite of the long time to upgrade (about two hours and half, all in all), it went well and everything seemed to sync properly between all my devices.

Today however, I tried syncing my 2Do app on my iPhone — I haven’t opened it much lately as I’ve gotten used just to iCal, but if you need something more, 2Do is the best task & reminder management app you can find. After syncing, some of my calendars had been duplicated. I checked the ones that had tasks and deleted the others that looked empty — big mistake: when I checked my iCal a bit later, the same calendars were gone with no duplicates left behind. Luckily, I had a complete backup from earlier today (I must’ve had a feeling something would go wrong). I imported the backup, but to my horror, as soon as the calendars would be back, iCloud would start syncing and promptly deleting the ‘new’ calendars. Unlike MobileMe, iCloud considers the data it has in the cloud as the main ‘mother’ source, and all the other sources are considered its ‘children’. You don’t have the option to merge or overwrite the iCloud data with the one on your Mac, as you had with MobileMe. Frustrated, I tried various ways of importing back the data but each time iCloud would reject anything that wasn’t already in the cloud. In the end, I was left with no calendars at all and just a useless backup file — Apple should seriously think about this, what good is the iCal Archive backup if it doesn’t work?

So, if you’ve lost your calendars like me, or if you had duplicates and you or iCloud deleted them (some seem to have this problem), here’s a way to merge local data with iCloud and repair the syncing between all your devices:

  1. Obviously, you need a back-up (an iCal archive or .ics files) — if you don’t have that, you could try getting back the data using Time Machine (if you have one, of course). You can learn how to do that here, but it might take a while if you had a lot of calendars and events.
  2. Open the iCal preferences and delete your iCloud account — a warning will inform you that all your calendars will be deleted, including the reminders (only ‘On My Mac’ calendars will remain). You have to press on the minus button, as you can see below.
  3. Go to your Mac’s System Preferences and in the new iCloud section uncheck the Calendars — this will make your iCall ‘free’ from the iCloud. You have the same option in the ‘Mail, Contacts & Calendars’ section, either is fine.
  4. Go to and delete all your calendars and reminder calendars manually — you might have to create a new ‘temp’ one as you can’t have zero calendars. Now you should have a clean iCloud, with just two empty calendars, the second for the reminders  (just to make sure, check on your iPhone too).
  5. Cut your internet and import your backup file into iCal — now you should have all your data back, but since the calendars are already set as iCloud ones, not ‘On My Mac’ types, they’d be deleted as soon as you go online again. You need to manually export each calendar as an .ics file.
  6. Unfortunately, for the reminders it’s a bit tricky, as you can’t export them as .ics files — you need to create as many ‘On My Mac’ Reminder calendars as you have for your reminders and copy all from each calendar and assign them to a new ‘On My Mac’ calendar. Be sure not to use the same names for the new calendars.
  7. Now, delete all the iCloud calendars and the reminder calendars except the ‘temp’ ones that are already online — you should be left with a clean iCal, similar to what you had in the cloud before going offline plus the ‘On My Mac’ reminder calendars.
  8. Import the .ics calendars one by one, choosing the ‘New Calendar’ option — this will create similar calendars as you had before, but instead of being ‘iCloud’ calendars, they are ‘On My Mac’ ones.
  9. Put the internet back on and check the Calendars option in the System Preferences — since iCloud thinks this is the first time you’re setting up your iCal to sync, it will merge the data from your iCal with what you had in the cloud (the two temp calendars, which you can delete after the sync). With a bit of luck, you might even have the same colours you had before the mishap.

That’s it, less complicated than it looks, you just need to follow the steps properly and you should have everything back, working nicely, in about 15 minutes. Let me know if you have more questions.

Good luck!


Later update:

Mr Gruber (Daring Fireball) points out that iCloud calendars are now type-specific, meaning they’re either event-based or reminder-based. This means that when you upgrade, your calendars get split into two calendars bearing the same name, one for the events and one for reminders. While this is no problem in iCal, if you’re using BusyCal or 2Do (and maybe other 3rd apps too), you will get duplicate calendars. If you delete those, you’ll lose data, just as I did. My solution was to rename all the reminder calendars. Read more on Daring Fireball.



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.



Sagmeister: Another Book about Promotion & Sales Material — book review

September 8, 2011, 1:06 AM

Stefan Sagmaister is without doubt, one of the best known graphic designers, a superstar, to be fair. His latest work showcase comes in the form of a bi-lingual (German & English) black book, ironically entitled ‘Another Book about Promotion & Sales Material’ and presenting projects developed over the last seven years. It follows an exhibition of work by Sagmeister Inc presented at the Mudac museum in Lausanne in March 2011.

The book explores the idea of selling, through four chapters: Selling Culture, Selling Corporations, Selling My Friends and Selling Myself. In the introductory interview, Stefan talks about different concepts related to selling, how they change depending on circumstances, years, about clients, organizing his work and about his roots as a designer. Mentioning one of his older works — the famous poster where he had the text carved onto his skin — he talks about the impact of the human body in graphic design, magazines especially (a point that Kit Hinrichs also made in one of his interviews, that the human face sells the most). He also mentions the pleasure of entrusting the creative helm on designing the book to his collaborator, Martin Woodtli and the reasons behind this decision — a tough one for quite a lot of designers (trusting another to design things for us, that is).

Each chapter contains one two-pages essay, written by Martin Heller (‘A Matter of Posture’), Joseph V. Tripodi (‘Winning by Design’), Marian Bantjes (‘My Friend’) and Mieke Gerritzen (‘Stefan Is a Pop Star’) respectively. None of them leaves you with anything new, but while Ms Bantjes is honest and fun, Mr Tripodi is plain annoying, wasting one and a half page for praising his company, Coca Cola, mentioning Stefan just as an afterthought, at the end. It almost feels like an advert inside a magazine — considering the topic of the book, who knows, maybe it really is.

More interesting are Stefan’s half-page stories of various life experiences, spread throughout the book. And, of course, the work itself, accompanied by extensive captions, bundled together before or after the full-page images.

As mentioned before, the book is designed by Martin Woodtli, making it quite different from Sagmeister’s previous books. The interior feels quite elegant and classic, thanks to the beautiful usage of the New Fournier BP typeface, designed by François Rappo. The cover fits the classic interior, making use of black plus gold foiling and embossing, but with a humorous tone, the illustration being a visual pun on Da Vinci’s vitruvian man.

The last essay, ‘Stefan Is a Pop Star’, while feeling quite superficial when talking about fame, does manage to provide a nice conclusion to the book:

‘Stefan Sagmeister now represents that special graphic designer who looks at the world of the 21st century and sees how large the cultural field has become. Forget the frameworks and rules […] developed in the previous century. The designer may once again become a visionary, performer, architect, and artist.’

My favourite part, however, is the short story called ‘Northern Italy’, in which Stefan recalls a talk he had with his mother:

The story that makes the book worth reading (click on image to enlarge)

 “Nothing is more difficult to endure than a sequence of beautiful days.”


Title: Sagmeister: Another Book about Promotion & Sales Material
Edited by: Stefan Sagmeister, Chantal Prod’Hom, Martin Woodtli
No. of pages: 176
Publisher: Abrams (01 September 2011)
Language: German & English
ISBN-10: 1419701398
ISBN-13: 9781419701399

— more about the exhibition: Another Exhibit about Promotion and Sales Material;
— the book reviewed on the Creative Review.



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.

— 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, hopefully it will be just as good as when it launches.