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

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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Design: The World of Minale Tattersfield — Book Review

April 27, 2011, 1:52 PM

Minale Tattersfield is one of the top British design companies, founded back in 1964 by Marcello Minale and Brian Tattersfield. They are now a global company, with eight offices all around the world.

The Design: The World of Minale Tattersfield book presents their work and their ideas. Their first book, ‘Design a la Minale Tattersfield’, published in 1986, ‘explored its artist-designer origins in the creative ferment of the early 1960s and charted its spectacular tradition of invention up to the mid-80s’ — as Jeremy Myerson, the book’s author says (he is also the founder of the DesignWeek magazine). The new book takes up the story, covering more than 25 years, starting from the 60s and continuing with the transition period in the 90s, with the expansion of the company and the increasing globalisation of the design industry. Read on for more info and pictures.

» Continue reading

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Tsunami, a beautiful illustrations-project

April 23, 2011, 2:27 PM

Tsunami is a laudable project started by the CFSL community, gathering illustrators and other artists to create works as homage to the March 11 Japanese catastrophe. The best works have been included in the Magnitude 9 book, which you can buy and help raise money for the Give2Asia fund.

There are so so many beautiful works, the techniques ranging from awesome watercolours, pencils, ink, photo-only, typography to even oil-like Photoshop paintings, like this ‘Island of the Dead’ reinterpretation (the classic painting, by Arnold Böcklin). Obviously, there are some child-like drawings too, but even some of those have their own touching effect. Be warned, there are 17 pages of entries so far, but most of them are really worth it.

As expected whenever there’s a Japanese-related contest, the Japanese sun is the most used symbol, but there are a lot of anime & manga characters present too: Astro Boy, Godzilla, Pikachu, Akira, mechas and many more. Plenty of samurais as well, Mount Fuji, kimonos, temples, toriis, ukiyo-e-like or Hokusai waves, bamboo umbrellas, koi fish, dragons, Noh-theatre and other folk-related characters.

Among these, it’s no surprise that Miyazaki’s characters are some of the most heart-touching: Totoro, Catbus, the Kodama or the Laputa Robot — all of them being nature protectors or spirits in their original stories. There’s even an over-whelmed Porco Rosso (or maybe he’s resting a bit between searches).

Here are some of my favourites:

• this touching Totoro, by Virginy Coste:

• another equally touching Totoro by Redec (you can visit his blog too):

• a simple-yet-strong one by Sylvain Guinebaud:

• one unrelated to Miyazaki, but nontheless beautiful, by Mista Benny:

• and last but not least, this beautiful Laputa robot, protecting Totoro (if you look carefully, you can see yet another Miyazaki character) — by Sébastien Vastra:

Many thanks to Florian Nistor for the find
— hopefully, you’ll get your website up & running soon, mate! :)

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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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Feelings (Jausmai)

April 9, 2011, 1:11 PM

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

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

Be sure to check the Eye Blog for more.

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Beautiful watercolours by Nigel Gilbert

April 3, 2011, 3:27 PM

Watercolouring is probably the hardest painting or drawing technique to master, as it allows few mistakes. It is, however, one of my favourites, as no other technique can rival its wonderful portrayal of light and transparency. Too bad my skills in using watercolours are more than rusty these days. Well, no use in feeling sorry, we all make our own choices, after all. Here is one creative fellow that has stayed on the beautiful path of watercolouring. Nigel Gilbert is a seasoned British architectural painter — an award winning one, actually, but he’s at least equally good in painting less architectural landscapes and even comics. Definitely check out his website and his blog.

Here are some of my favourites:

By the way, if you’re in London till mid-August, do yourself a favour and check out the Watercolour exhibition at Tate Britain.

/via The Creative Finder

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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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Graffiti is dead, long live graffiti

March 28, 2011, 4:50 PM

Street art, graffiti in particular, is more or less an ephemeral form of art, threatened all the time by weather, unhappy landlords, neighbourhood-cleaning raids or, most of the time, other street artists in search of a space to express themselves. There may still be around graffitis from the ancient times, but few are so lucky.

Shoreditch is by definition the cool centre of London, the place to be if you’re involved in any creative business. Almost every street has its own ‘work of art’, if not more. My favourite was this one, a rather unusual, monochromatic graffiti, as it was more a painting than a “wall sketch” (click for the full-size version):

The first time I saw it, I thought the wall was just dirty, as I could only see a small part from the right-hand side. The guys standing with their backs at the road seemed so natural, waiting for something, maybe just killing time. And of course, the smartest touch, the bike tied to the street light added even more depth to the confusion (each time I walked past the wall, at least one bike would be there, almost part of the painting). Details were beautiful, each character having quite a lot of stuff going on, plus there were one or two small bits to discover, like the plane right under the windows, usually hidden by the tree. And last but not least, the background was beautiful as well, an abstract, random-stripes-nonsense at first sight, an interesting city sky-line on closer inspection.

Here’s a closer-taken photo of the left side, taken last fall — the others are taken later on, during the winter (click for the full-size version):

Sadly, or naturally, as all things have an end sooner or later, the painting was replaced a few weeks ago by this less unconventional graffiti (click for the full-size version):

It’s most likely a continuation of the work on the other side of the building, on Curtain Road (which also went through its share of changes):

Unfortunately, I don’t know the [nick]names of any of the creators, so if you know something, drop me a line and I’ll happily add the credits. My favourite wall painting might not be there anymore, but if you’re walking on Great Eastern Road towards Old Street, make a left on Curtain Road to see what’s on.

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Different ways of looking

March 4, 2011, 5:18 PM

Few days ago, I happened to walk past a beautiful scene: a bright-orange pot, holding a tiny, Little-Prince-like tree, caught up right in the never-ending battle between light & shadow. Obviously, I had to stop for a look and a quick shot:

Half an hour later, still thinking about the photo, I felt like putting more emphasis on the subject, closing the frame in and warming the whole scene even more — while I was quite skeptical about Instagram at the beginning, dismissing it as yet another ‘hipster-app’, I came to love it quite fast after giving it a try: it’s fast, it’s simple and it lets me focus on the subject and on the title — a great exercise for any creative person (true, some use it to share their breakfast menu to the world, but I guess that can’t be helped in the current no-privacy world). So here came the second, more focused treatment, titled ‘It’s mostly about being there at the right time, eyes opened.’

'It's mostly about being there at the right time, eyes opened.'

As my Instagram account publishes instantly to my Twitter account, one of my followers retweeted it. While it’s always nice when people ‘like’ your stuff, seeing the retweet made me look at the photo again. Oddly enough, there was something new, something I didn’t see the first time. Or, better said, I realised that, in spite of the title, my eyes haven’t been open enough.

Graphic Design: Visual Comparisons (1964), by Fletcher Forbes Gill

As a big fan of Pentagram, I have pretty much all the books they’ve ever made, starting with the above beauty, “Graphic Design: Visual Comparisons” (1964), written by Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes and Bob Gill before the official birth of Pentagram (the Fletcher Forbes Gill studio eventually became Pentagram in 1972). The simple drawing on the cover, depicting the book’s title, would’ve probably went just as well on the cover of Alan Fletcher’s later book, The Art of Looking Sideways (2001). So with these two  constantly roaming through the back of my mind, I saw an entirely different scene, where the orange pot was no longer the main subject, but where several other much more interesting ‘characters’ were ‘looking’ around in many different ways. The title this time, ‘… and there’s always more than just one way of looking.’

'... and there's always more than just one way of looking.'

After this, I started playing around some more, trying black & white versions of the photo, other crops and so on. None made me happier than the above one, but it really was a great to be reminded that one can look at things from so many different perspectives. Of course, the scene had quite a lot of things to play around with and focus on, but the same exercise can be done with almost anything, even just one single object. For example, I remember one of the assignments my high school design teacher told me about: you are given a single push pin — you have to come up with a complex pencil drawing composition on a large A1 paper, based only on that tack. Now, there’s a challenge, if you needed one.

And since I mentioned push pins, there’s no better way of concluding it than with this Milton Glaser poster:

Milton Glaser's "Looking is not Seeing" poster.

Further links and credits:
— thanks to Roxana for helping me see things differently;
— you’d probably enjoy my Instagrid photo collection (now over 100);
— you can buy Milton’s poster on his website.

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A book cover for La Fontaine’s Fables from the 50s

February 27, 2011, 9:10 PM

While I was a kid, and well into my teenage years, I would spend summers at my grandparents’, far into the north of Transylvania, ‘bookworming’ through their large library, trying to beat my own reading records. As my grandmother is half German, half Hungarian and my grandfather is Romanian (mother side), their library was — and still is — packed with Romanian, Hungarian and Russian (because of the long comunist regime) books. Luckily, some of them were translated in Romanian, as I didn’t know the other languages (too young to catch Russian hours in school, not long enough with my grandparents to pick up proper Hungarian from them). Anyway, it was a wonderful thing to be able to read literature from such different countries. Most of the books were from the 50s and the 60s, when my mother and her brothers were kids, but some were even older — grandpa had a large old chest in the attic with books from his teenage years — such a joy to browse through.

Unfortunately, I only have a few photos of them, but here is one that always fascinated me: La Fontaine’s Fables. It wasn’t among my favourite reads, but its illustrations and typography were always a pleasure to look at:

Oh, I don’t think I need to tell you that all those books smelled wonderful, do I? :)

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