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

Picturing Thoughts

December 31, 2013, 2:05 PM

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‘Born out of a relentless need to explore, Picturing Thoughts is an ongoing personal project which turns thoughts into images, thereby creating space for more interesting thoughts. — The title is inspired by Alan Fletcher’s book, Picturing and Poeting, its own title being borrowed from a remark allegedly made by Kurt Schwitters.’

This description sums up what my Picturing Thoughts project is all about. It can be found on both the project’s website and on the second page of the project’s first booklet, which I printed in the beginning of 2013, collecting the best twenty of the first fifty pieces. At the moment (end of 2013), there are seventy pieces on the website and more than a dozen in the works.

It’s Nice That, the popular online magazine, featured the project in July and were very kind in their description of both the project and my work. I photographed the booklet for their feature, you can see the images below (click on images for larger versions).

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My initial plan was to do and post them on a monthly basis, but reality rarely matches our initial plans. I work on them in my sketchbooks almost daily, after which I finish them in Illustrator in batches of five and post fifteen or twenty pieces every two or three months, sometimes more, depending on my workload and other personal projects.

All pieces are usually designed as posters, but I have no plans of selling them at the moment. What matters most is doing them, the process, learning through it. I plan to print a second booklet sometime in 2014, but I have two other booklet projects that I have to finish first. If you’re wondering, I use the booklets for self-promo purposes, they’re printed digitally on an HP Indigo by the fine folks at PurePrint (they print the Eye magazine, which says it all). You can hardly tell the difference from litho (offset), digital has come a long way.

By the way, eight of the Picturing Thoughts were also included in the ‘After Hours’ exhibition, showing work by some well-known designers, and a few young designers among which I was very lucky to be included. You can read my blog post about it.

If you’d like to see all of them, please go to PicturingThoughts.com — subscribe or follow on Tumblr if you’d like to be notified when new ones are posted. Thank you, hope you’ll find them inspiring.

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Igarashi Alphabets

November 25, 2013, 12:53 PM

This post was initially published on TypeToken.

Takenobu Igarashi is one of the Japanese greats, his work ranging from graphic design, industrial to environmental and even sculpture. He’s been a member of AGI since 1981. His book, ‘Igarashi Alphabets: From Graphics to Sculptures’ showcases quite a few of his typographic projects and experiments in both 2D and 3D mediums. His interest in three-dimensional letters and typography has led to projects like ‘Aluminum Alphabet’ (1983), ”Ori (Folded) Alphabet’ (1985), his impressive ‘MoMA Calendar Series’ (1984-1993) for which he’s drawn over six thousand different numerals (isometric, done before computers), ‘Transformable Alphabet’ (1981), ‘Mirror Alphabet’ (1981), ‘Scultpure H’ (1981) and many others.

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Igarashi’s philosophy is best summed up by his own words:
‘My approach to design and sculpture has always wavered between my wish to do something useful for society, and my desire to create something beautiful with my own hands. In my opinion there are three essential things in work: passion, challenge and discovery. Without that, work gets boring; with that, work is enjoyable. And artwork that is enjoyable also results in success.’

Have a look at the Igarashi Studio website for more projects.
You can also read his AGI profile.

Book details:
Publisher: ABC Edition Zurich (1987)
Language: English, German, French
ISBN-10: 3855041024
ISBN-13: 978-3855041022

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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.”

BOOK DETAILS

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

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

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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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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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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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Book reviews — Introducing a new category on the blog

January 1, 2011, 10:27 PM

This post opens the new year with a new category on the blog, Book Reviews. As an incurable book-addict (thanks mum!), I’ve always had problems deciding what to buy first (good design & typography books are rarely cheap, especially for a student). Few websites are of real help, the best being YouWorkForThem (Amazon’s «Look Inside» feature usually being just a nuisance) — others being Jason Santa Maria’s Rec. Reading (very short on details) or Design Observer’s list (short info and far too many). There are dozens of books on typography or grid design, for instance, but few offer a helpful & thorough take on the subject — or bring anything new at all — so we’re usually left asking: which one?

Hopefully, I’ll make things a bit easier. Here are a few points that I’ll try to touch:

  1. show inside photos of the book, as they’re usually the best way to get the feeling & usefulness of the book (plus, let’s face it, we–designers first look at the pictures, no matter how type-obsessed we are);
  2. give a more personal, designer’s review of the book, explaining why it is good (or where it lacks) and what’s to learn from it (rather than just state what it’s about);
  3. compare it to similar books or give further reading recommendations (some are ok for beginners, some require previous readings or knowledge);
  4. keep it short enough — I wouldn’t want to spoil your reading pleasure — “The secret of being boring is to say everything,” according to Voltaire;
  5. quote some of the most memorable parts, the ones that should stay with you for quite some time (also reminders for myself and those that have read the book).
  6. colophon — besides the fact that many times we buy them just for their looks, you can learn a lot not just by reading a book, but also by looking at how it’s made (what typefaces it uses, what kind of grid and so on).

I’ll be reviewing one or two books per month, maybe more, if time permits (images-mostly books are easier, of course, but I try to avoid them, as there’s usually little to learn from them). Unless I buy or get something new that I find extremely interesting, all the books will be from my shelf (if you want one reviewed faster or just a short opinion, feel free to write me). Any comments, ideas or further details are more than welcome, as always.

Thank you for reading, the first review will follow shortly and it’s about one of the greats, Paul Rand — stay tuned.

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Proud as I can be: Brandient 101 — The book

March 28, 2010, 1:47 AM

Later note: even if it is filed in the ‘Book reviews’ category, this is not one in itself — it is more of an announcement of the book’s launching, as I was involved in it too.

Rarely have I been so proud to be a designer as I am now. Two days ago, Brandient launched “Brandient 101”, the first book dedicated to Romanian brand design (limited edition of 101, signed).

I’ve been part of more than a handful of projects presented in the book, all of them being great experiences, from which I’ve learned a lot — the more difficult, the bigger the challenge and, of course, the reward. Working at Brandient for the last 3 years has been the real school that formed me as a designer (a brand designer, to be more precise, or a communication designer, as Mr. Erik likes to say), learning from and with my colleagues on all occasions, stressful or not (I found out over the years that the bigger the pressure, the faster you learn & work — of course, too much pressure is never a good thing, but one can never underestimate a designer’s ‘magical’ ability of pulling the ship around on the right track while the client is already ringing at the door :P) .

The book is designed by Cristian -Kit- Paul, Brandient’s Creative Partner, one of the best Romanian designers and also a great photographer — definitely follow him on Kit·blog. He’s also a very skilled speaker, another example that being a great designer is not only about drawing well-thought logos & identities, but also about explaining them, about promoting design as a business tool and last but not least, about teaching and inspiring the others.

But enough with the raves, here it is:

» Continue reading

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