running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Spreading the Words in 2010

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Its almost the end of 2009, and there will inevitably be all sorts of top ten lists flying around the web for design trends, influential styles, and best ofs.

Based on what I've seen during the past twelve months, there are definitely signposts as to how things are going to change in various areas of design, most notably in typography.

Typography has been enjoying a real renaissance, and its been on a roll for the past two or three years. The improvements in browsers and web standards have allowed CSS to get really powerful for web-based typography, and there is a definite convergence with print. Above all, a much broader audience base has evolved out of the social networking phenomenon, which means that more and more people are starting to understand and appreciate typography.

This has sparked a renewed interest in early Modernism, and in fact, MoMA is just about to launch a new exhibition of works from the collection of Jan Tschichold, the originator of the New Typography movement in the 1920's and 30's.

Another result of this momentum can be seen in the new solutions for newsprint - Adobe's Air platform for the New York Times Reader 2.0, and Portugal's i-Paper - both of which use much more experimental ways of delivering traditional text-based information. As for the production of new typefaces, foundries seem to be doing really well, with an abundance of new fontfaces appearing regularly, and an explosion of licensed trading on the internet.

After the excesses of grunge, the flippancy of retro, and a brief return to the safe haven of Helvetica, many designers are trying to design their way out of those aforementioned trends by returning to the era before the Swiss Style took hold in the post-war period. Seeking to emulate the possibilities of early Modernism, this 'post-retro' sensibility was hinted at in Gary Hustwit's awesome documentary film 'Helvetica' (2007), and has come to fruition spectacularly. Here are a few great examples:

Firstly, an example of how print and web can converge into a new format. Although accessibility issues dog horizontal web layouts, they can still look amazing, and here is a real beauty - www.faub.org. It's powered by some clever jquery scripting, and features huge typography and lots of print-based ideas integrated into a series of horizontal web-spreads.

Secondly, one of the best CD covers of 2009, for Grizzly Bear's critically acclaimed third LP 'Veckatimest'.


This cover features a handmade sans font (by Amelia Bauer), with the words double-justified and broken up into syllables, giving it a retro feel but and connecting it directly to the layout ideas of the New Typography. The abstract background underpins the approach, and the result is a fresh feel, created from a set of previously exhausted visual styles.

Check out Grizzly Bear's website for more.

A third example comes from Neville Brody and his Research Studios. I posted back in the summer about his 'New Deal' font for the movie Public Enemies, and since then Brody has also come up with 'Popaganda', a retro sans font which has found its way into magazines in dramatic style. It is laid out to resemble a sort of precursor to the Swiss-style, but it also has a grunge aspect to it, with a ragged arrangement in bold weight and some very tight leading.

Popaganda Spread

Popaganda Spread

Popaganda Spread

Not only is this getting back to the heady days of the experimental layout, it can also be emulated online in CSS3, where we now have @fontface importing and better control over properties like line-height, thanks to an improved understanding of vertical rhythm and grid layouts for the web.

For me, 2010 should see a further merging of print-based layout ideas and web-based flexibility. In order to accommodate this, the web trend for big fonts will persist, and I also expect to see a lot more horizontal-scrolling websites, which can take advantage of wider screen resolutions in an attempt to emulate the flow of magazine layouts.

Helvetica - a film by Gary Hustwit
The Horizontal Way
Type Foundries listed on FontShop.com

Digging the Art of Russia

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Back in October I posted a piece about BBC4's excellent 'Upgrade Me' program, and now they have produced yet another informative and stylish cultural offering, with 'The Art of Russia'.

This is a three-part series in which art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon explores the development of Russian Art, from the birth of the Russian icon through the high baroque period and on into the politically-fuelled experimentation of the early 20th century. Dixon's journey ends with the strange eclecticism of the current post-Soviet era.

I watched the second part on Wednesday night, in which Graham-Dixon eloquently explored the motives, reasons and meanings behind the decline of late 19th century Russian Art. He focussed on Tsarist commissions and the overblown elaborate decadence of Russia's pre-revolutionary Imperialism. This included a look at some outrageously opulent Faberge eggs made for Alexander III and Nicholas II.

If that all sounds a bit heavy, the real rewards came near the end of the program, as Malevich and Kandinsky emerged early in the 20th century with their abstract genius, amidst the social and political turmoil of revolution. In particular, Dixon cites Malevich's 'Black Square' as the "dark minimalist window into the soul of a torn nation". Great stuff.

Malevich - Black Square, 1915.

Malevich, Black Square.

The third part, airing on the 23rd, will have the most relevance to design, with the experiments of the Constructivist era which led to the invention of the modern visual and typographical language of advertising. Rodchenko, Mayakovsky, Popova and El Lissitzy will hopefully get plenty of Dixon's eloquent critique, and perhaps he will tie this in with the related Modernist movements in central Europe - Bauhaus and De Stjil.

Finally, Dixon will look at the arcane world of Russia today and how it is producing some of the world's strangest art, some of art's strangest collectors, and why there may be the first signs of a return to visual ethos of the 1920's. Bring it on.

Roads to Revolution - The Art of Russia, part 2 - BBC iPlayer
The Art of Russia website
Malevich - Black Square

D&AD 2010

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

D&AD Yellow Pencils

In the creative industries, the D&AD Yellow Pencil is a symbol of real achievement.

D&AD has celebrated and nurtured outstanding work in design and advertising since 1962. Each year, the D&AD Annual Showcase provides an unrivalled source of creative inspiration, and is a good yardstick as to current trends, skills and styles in contemporary visual communication. Its also a good indicator of the quality of creatives that Further and Higher Education is currently producing.

So this year, with Telford College now fully joined up to the University Network programme, we'll be looking to encourage our HND students to submit work based on the 2010 briefs. Last year, two of our students won commendations for the YCN program, so it would be great to see some D&AD accolades up in the studio display cabinet as well.

The D&AD University Network Programme has been running now for more than twenty years,a nd being a member helps an institution to establish relationships with leading creative practitioners and agencies, provides teaching packs and resources incorporating the best examples of creative practice and execution and adds live industry focused elements to the curriculum.

Membership is aimed at all Higher Education courses teaching creativity including Advertising, Graphic Design, Digital Media, Film & Animation, Photography, Illustration.

One thing I am excited about this year is that D&AD are revamping their web presence to include an online showcase of each institution's entries. They are also offering up free tickets to the New Blood Exhibition in London.

I'm just hoping our Department will be arranging for all expenses paid.

Preparing Your Entries Guide
D&AD Sponsors and Supporters 2010

The Trouble with Black

Stephen Malkmus, vocalist with the recently reformed US indie legends Pavement, once astutely observed that "there are forty different shades of black, so why are you complaining?"

Black will probably always be the new black in fashion terms, but unfortunately for graphic designers there really are many shades of black, and controlling them, especially for print, can be very tricky.

Two Colour Spaces
On your computer monitor, colour is represented in the RGB colourspace, whilst in print, it's CMYK.

It's a straightforward process to convert from RGB to CMYK, and this is usually done just before you export a .tiff file to Illustrator or InDesign, in preparation for adding your type and laying out your design. But it can lead to some really complicated problems when it comes to printing.

Two Colour Values
'Photoshop Black', in RGB, is represented as R0, G0, B0 or #000000 - no colour in any channel. In CMYK, 'True Black' is represented as 0C, 0M, 0Y, 100K - no ink except 100% black.

Of course a screen can't render CMYK colour, so both blacks will look the same on your monitor, but they are actually not the same colour in print.

To demonstrate, if you fire up Photoshop and select black at #000000 and then check the equivalent CMYK value, you might get a surprise - it's actually 75C, 68M, 67Y, 90K - nowhere near True Black.

This results in mismatched shades when an image with a black background is edited in Photoshop, then gets placed in Illustrator or InDesign into a black canvas area. It all looks awesome until it pops out of the printer.

The obvious solution is to set black to True Black in Photoshop, then export. But try setting to 0C 0M 0Y 100K in Photoshop and here's what you get:

You'll be editing your poster image with a mucky grey colour instead of a nice deep black.

Controlling Black
Neither of these solutions seems to be the right one, and in fact, even True Black in the CMYK colourspace produces a grey result. This is because only one ink is used during the printing, and that one layer of ink doesn't have the sort of depth you get by mixing the four inks that make up CMYK colour.

Rich Black Combinations
So what is required is a combination of inks to produce a 'Rich Black'.

'Rich Blacks' are ink mixtures of solid black over one or more of the other CMYK colors, resulting in a darker tone than black ink alone generates in a printing process, like this:

Forty Different Shades?
Some of the common combinations are -

True black is 0C, 0M, 0Y, 100K (prints as charcoal grey)
Photoshop black is 75C, 68M, 67Y 90K (prints as dark grey)
Cool black is 60C, 0M, 0Y, 100K (black with a bluish tone)
Warm black is 0C, 60M, 30C, 100K (black with a reddish tone)
Registration black is 100C, 100M, 100Y, 100K (used for registration marks)
Designer black is 30C, 30M, 30Y, 100K (a dark slightly cool black).

Other 'designer' combinations include 60, 40, 40 100 and 40, 60, 40 100.

So Which Black When and How?
The solution is to pre-select the rich black combination you plan to use. Then convert the black areas in the raster image to those values. The file then gets placed in the page layout software, where the background is sampled to the same combination.

But there is one final problem. For body text, Rich Black causes coloured aberration on the type. True Black is better because type prints cleaner in one ink. Check this example out:

So in the end, a mix of rich black for black areas, and true black for type is required. Both Illustrator and InDesign feature a clever setting to control how your blacks are rendered on screen. and to let you see where they are on the screen.

1.Choose Edit > Preferences > Appearance Of Black

2.Choose an option for On Screen:

a) Display All Blacks Accurately will show pure CMYK black as dark grey. This setting allows you to see the difference between pure black and rich black.

b) Display All Blacks As Rich Black shows pure CMYK black as jet black (RGB=000). This setting makes pure black and rich black appear the same on‑screen.

Display Black Preferences

Rich Black, can you spare a dime?
Pavement - 2010 World Tour

Wright Choice for the Turner

Monday, 7 December 2009

A year ago this week, I went to see the Gerhardt Richter exhibition at Edinburgh's National Gallery, and in a blog post about that visit, 'Off the Richter Scale', I contrasted Richter's amazing paintings with some of the dirge from prospective entrants for the 2009 Turner prize, which included a video installation of falling teacups.

The Turner has always been keen on awarding to mavericks with questionable originality. Previous winners of the prize have included Grayson Perry, Gilbert and George, Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst. Last year, Mark Leckey won with a pop culture influenced film featuring Homer Simpson and Felix the Cat (no, I'm not joking).

But the shortlist this year was really good, and the eventual winner Richard Wright is one of the best artists working today in the UK. His contribution to this year's Turner Prize exhibition is a gargantuan gold-leaf fresco almost covering one wall of the gallery.

Wright's Gold Leaf Fresco

Wright, a Glasgow-based painter whose works include huge canvasses of coloured points and massive frescos, is inspired by architecture and space, and he beat Roger Hiorns, Enrico David and the very Eva Hesse-influenced Lucy Skaer, to take the prize.

Painters are a bit of a rarity in modern art, and Wright's work is all done using a Medieval technique that starts off with simple drawing and then escalates and expands into large repeating patterns. What makes his stuff all the more fascinating is that his bespoke artworks are designed to fit each exhibition space, and are then dismantled after each exhibition - he leaves with nothing, and sells nothing.

Roger Hiorns should actually get a mention too, he submitted a far-out work called 'Seizure', in which a derelict flat in South London was filled with liquid copper sulphate, which after a period of time encrusted every surface of the space with blue crystals.

Wright Strikes Gold (the Guardian)
Wright Wins Turner (BBC).
The Tate.org

The Greatest Sketchbook Never Used

Friday, 4 December 2009

TASCHEN have just published an amazing artefact - a limited-edition box-set of books about Stanley Kubrick's legendary unmade film 'Napoleon' .

Kubrick's Napoleon

Entitled 'Kubrick's Napoleon - the Greatest Film Never made', this is a giant 10-volume book outlining the whole creative process that would have led up to the film. It includes 100's of scene sketches, a selection of Kubrick’s correspondence (with the likes of Jack Nicholson and Peter O'Toole), costume studies, some 4000 scouting photographs, script drafts and reams of carefully archived notes.

It all adds up to a mindboggling amount of research material on Bonaparte, amassed with the help of dozens of assistants and even an Oxford Napoleon specialist.

As if that wasn't enough, Kubrick’s final draft of the script is reproduced in facsimile, while the other texts are neatly packaged into one volume, separate from the visual material. The books are presented inside a carved-out reproduction of a Napoleon history book, and the design was done by French design studio M/M, who have worked with Vogue Paris, Interview, and Purple Fashion and collaborated with the likes of Bjork and Madonna.

Apparently purchasing the book also entitles you to access an online database of 17,000slides and scouting images which Kubrick collected and archived.

Unfortunately there are only 1000 copies, each tagged at a whopping £450.

Beyond the book design, what's interesting from a graphic design perspective is the artefact itself - a perfect example of how research and an accumulation of information is vital to any creative process. This allows an artist or designer to deconstruct the brief, and assemble visual and textual material that can be organised, studied and decoded into conceptual ideas.

This sort of work is an integral part of our teaching program in Graphic Design at Telford, and a sketchbook submission is mandatory as part of a design project.

It would be great if we had the budget to purchase a copy for the library, but we'd need an armed guard to keep watch over it.

More info:
Kubrick's Napoleon Screenplay (pdf)
Buy it at Amazon.
Taschen Books - Kubrick's Napoleon.

All Hail Helsinki

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Helsinki may not be Berlin, Paris, New York, London or even Edinburgh, but the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) announced last week that Helsinki is to become the World Design Capital in 2012. This biennial award is in recognition of a city's contribution to and use of design as an effective tool for social, cultural and economic development.

Helsinki has produced well-known global brands like Nokia, Kone and Marimekko, is home to the highly-rated University of Art and Design Helsinki and has a design quarter, the 'Design District Helsinki' - an area full of design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Helsinki also boasts an annual Design Week - a festival aimed at introducing people to new design by exhibiting a multi-disciplinary take on design.

HDW logo

A Finnish TV Channel, Basso Televisio, did a recent feature on the festival on its arts program Cultivate, which neatly explains the whole idea.

The festival this year included a cultural collaboration with Madrid - the 'Helsinki Madrid FinDesign'. This project provides the main exhibition for the Finnish Design Month in Madrid, which is currently in full swing, having started on 4 November 2009 at the Contemporary Art Center in Matadero.

The exhibition runs till January 10th, and features several hundred products from Finnish companies and designers representing many different design areas and viewpoints.

Overall you get the impression that Helsinki takes design very seriously. The creative sector is re-shaping Helsinki’s economy and enhancing the citizens’ quality of life. The collaborative aspect to this feels really authentic, and it all sounds very progressive. It's also a welcome throwback to the halcyon days of modernism, and the belief that the way we design our environment is as important has how we treat it.

Here in Edinburgh, we could do with a little bit of that authenticity, and perhaps even a design week.


Helsinki - World Design Capital 2012
DIESEL.com - Cultivate
World Design Capital Project.

Audi Sans Charm

Sunday, 29 November 2009

We all know what Hollywood does when it gets its hands on a classic, and logos are no different. An organisation with a world-famous logo is always going to tread carefully when it comes to upgrading or reworking any part of its Corporate ID.

But with design trends so sensitive to what's happening in the global economy at the moment, many well-known logos have undergone makeovers this year. Two emerging trends seem to have been a return to minimalism, and a flirtation with chrome effects.

A good example of each comes from Hertz and Apple respectively -

Hertz have gambled on going upmarket by ditching their clumsy stroked italics, and have succeeded by playing it safe with a bit of minimal modernism. The new yellow box is clean, with a slick sans serif type treatment that retains the italic stance but looks classy and very European.

Hertz Logos

Apple Quicktime.
With Microsoft finally releasing a decent OS with Windows 7, Steve Jobs et al have realised that Apple need to keep on reminding people of how efficient, usable and pleasurable their products are. So the new Quicktime logo sees Apple ditching the blue livery and opting instead for chrome and purple, with a sleek, dark, energetic feel that captures the times really well.

Quicktime Logo

So when one of the world's best-known marques decided upon a logo change this year, it was no surprise that they chose to combine both aforementioned trends without shifting too far from their comfort zone. I'm talking about Audi, who announced a revamped logo to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

The new marque features a chrome effect on the four rings, and a smaller and less fussy sans typeface.

The famous linked rings date back to 1935, when Audi merged with three other German automobile manufacturers - Horch, DKW and Wanderer. The badge itself was 'inspired' by the Olympic logo - the Berlin Games were held in Berlin in 1936. As recently as 1995 the International Olympic Committee were trying to sue Audi over the similarity.

The 'old' logo featured the rings plus Audi's name in Audi Sans (a modification of Univers Extended), which they started using in the late 1990's. Audi Sans features an angled flourish on the ascenders and a flattened shape that rounds out the letters. This gives the lowercase letters a flat, broad modern look, and is instantly unique and recognisable.

Audi Logo with Audi Sans Typeface.

For the new logo, the rings have a sharper, more definitive quality with a chromed, three dimensional look, which works great.

The typography has also had a makeover, and is now set using Audi Type, a new typeface designed by Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen of Dutch foundry 'Bold Monday'. Not only have the flourishes gone, but by dropping the pointsize, tweaking the kerning and left-aligning the word, the effect is one of controlled minimalism.

Audi Logo with Audi Type Typeface.

And that's exactly what I'm not that keen on. Audi Type just looks too much like Helvetica for me, which gives it a sort of neutral, matter-of-fact, bland feel - not qualities you'd associate with a car famous for its progressive technology, daring design, sleek looks, and that famous corporate tagline that embodies it all, 'Vorsprung durch Technik' (advantage in technology). Maybe I'm partial because I used to own (and love) an Audi 80, and I know that driving one is anything but bland.

Audi Type is very business-like and it does work well on their corporate literature and website, but for the logotype it lacks the charm of Audi Sans. The whitespace to the right of the lettering makes everything look unfinished, as if some other word should go there.

It may not damage Audi's brand image, but the new emphasis on order and reliability is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. And it's the end of a classic.


Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Royal Mail has been in the news recently, and most of the coverage has been about redundancies, union wrangles and strikes. But at last there is something to cheer about - a special set of stamps for 2010 - "The Design Classics: Classic British Album Covers".

These ten stamps will appear on January 7th, and include the Rolling Stones 'Let it Bleed', 'London Calling' by the Clash, and Primal Scream's seminal acid house epic, 'Screamadelic'.

Screamadelica, 1990
A number of important graphic designers from the last 40 years or so are represented in the selections, and the choices were based on surveys and polls of favourite album covers, together with input from editors of three major UK music publications, and a number of graphic designers and design writers. A shortlist was drawn up, and presumably that list was whittled down to the ten, with some obvious classics missing out, being just too weird, too provocative, or too obscure (or all three}.

The actual designs show each album cover with the Queen's silouette, and a vinyl disc (remember them?) which appears outside the die-cut of the stamp.

Its a great ideas, but who knows what the late Joe Strummer would have though about the ultimate establishment endorsement.

The List:
'The Division Bell' by Pink Floyd, 'Parklife', 'London Calling', 'Led Zeppelin IV', 'Power, Corruption & Lies' by New Order, Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica', 'Let It Bleed' by The Rolling Stones, Coldplay's 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head', 'The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars' by David Bowie and Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells'.

Design Classics Stamps

Gerstner's 'Die Neue Graphik'

Friday, 20 November 2009

What do I want for Christmas? I am on the lookout for a good copy of 'Die Neue Graphik' (1959), a history of Modernism in design up to the late 1950's, written by Karl Gerstner, a pioneering typographer and leading exponent of the 'Swiss Style'.

I saw the book once in Compendium, a now-defunct but legendary London bookshop in Camden, but I was probably more interested in Beat Poetry at the time and never bought it (although I should mention that it was priced at about £150!).

Die Neue Graphik

Swiss Style, or more correctly the 'International Typographic Style', was a hugely important graphic design style developed in Switzerland in the 1950's. It emphasised legibility and objectivity and utilised bold sans serif type, grid system layouts and ragged, left-justified text.

Swiss style commercialised the modernist ideas and experiments of Bauhaus and the Constructivists, and opened up experimental type to mainstream publishers. It built upon the ideas of the New Typography a decade or so before, especially the work of Jan Tschichold, who abandoned the use of all serif typefaces. And it gave us the Neu Haas Grotesk typeface, which we know and love as Helvetica.

Gerstner was originally an artist, but soon realised the potential of graphic design, and developed a unique typographical style.

Believing that center-justified text was untidy and formless, he preferred to work to a system of grids. He created unjustified, ranged-left setting for text, and this allowed the message and its form to become inseparable and interdependent – idea, text and typographical presentation became one.

One of Gerstner's first pieces was a book design for a novel by his friend and business partner, Markus Kutter, 'Schiff Nach Europa' (Ship to Europe). This book is laid out in a grid system to emphasise the author's experimental use of type, which included unusual mixes of font sizings, and different styles of discourse (eg newspapers, advertising copy, film script, monologue).

Gerstner's design agency, GGK, turned marketing and advertising companies on to the possibilities of the Swiss style. He designed the corporate identities for such companies as Swissair, Shell, Burda and Langenscheidt and worked as a world-wide identity consultant and designer for IBM.

Eventually he abandoned design and went back to art, but not before he had shaped the future of visual communication and inspired the likes of Wolfgang Weingart, Reid Miles and Neville Brody.

Schiff Nach Europa - Karl Gerstner/Markus Kutter.

Schiff Front Cover

Schiff Inner Page

i - the Saviour of the Newspaper?

These are tough times for newspapers. We all expect content to be free, and circulations have been hit hard by web-based delivery. OK so Adobe's Times Reader 2.0 is a great innovation, but it does add another nail in the print-only coffin.

But now there is a new daily publication in Portugal, simply titled i which is attempting to win back the initiative and reinvent the newspaper. Launched in May, it has already won a design award from the Society of News Design, and has impressive circulation figures to back up its daring ideas.

i is not structured like a traditional paper. They have come up with a new way to organise the product.

One idea seems to have been to throw out the traditional way of presenting content in sections. This in effect makes the newspaper into a magazine - and with a 56- to 64-page paper tabloid format that is stapled, its more like a Sunday supplement that a daily newspaper.

Rather than work from a template that would leave some pages fixed, i decided to customise each article based on its content. This obviously puts a huge emphasis on design. I guess it must be like producing a new magazine every day, rather than every week or month. Great news for creatives - more work and plenty of scope for inventive layouts.

In a way, by stripping down the structure and concentrating on content rather than filling up whole sections with worthless news, this newspaper is trying to deliver a visual experience, not just a purely informative one. And that's a description we were using just a few years ago about the web.

More ..
i online.
i - the Future of Newspapers?
New York Times - Times 2.0 Reader

Some examples from i

i spread

i spread

i spread

i cover

Another Young Spark

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

On Friday I was lucky enough to attend the 2009 DMA (Direct Marketing Association) Ball. It's held annually at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh and is a class event where the good and the great from the direct marketing & advertising world come together to celebrate their industry.

And for the last five years it has also hosted the premier award for upcoming marketeers, the Young Spark Award. Apparently entries for this year's Young Spark competition were up 64% on last year. Which is no surprise to me - the award is rapidly gaining the sort of kudos that great events always seem to garner.

This year, in one of the most hotly-contested finals since the awards started in 2005, Roxanne Messenger, a Creative Art Director from Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, held off challenges from co-finalists Renee Heath of WMpS and Sophie Slowe of Targetbase Claydon Heeley. It was great to see a creative picking up the accolade, and despite being blown away by the whole thing, when I spoke to her she was already talking about flying back down to London on Sunday to prepare for a 9am pitch on Monday morning!

If it sounds like I'm keen on the event, its because the Young Spark Award was launched in Scotland in memory of John Young, the former WWAV Rapp Collins Edinburgh managing director, who passed away in 2005. John had been Joint MD at Claydon Heeley, and had headed their Beijing operation during the late 1990's, before a stint at Wundermann in Amsterdam. He also happened to be a very close friend of mine, who died way before his time, at just 38 years.

I hear that the award is moving to London next year. I'm not sure if it's a permanent arrangement, but I think John would have liked the idea, so long as the award keeps ties with its roots. And in that way, it sets things up for a sort of homecoming further down the line.

'Messenger Crowned Young Spark' - the Drum.
'Young Spark Winner' - Marketing Direct Magazine.

Multi-Column Layouts in CSS3

Saturday, 14 November 2009

We are definitely entering a new era of interactive design.

When it finally gets launched, Wired Magazine's new Adobe Air powered PDF publication will take the convergence of print and web design to new levels. But the application itself is designed to run offline, on an iPad or a tablet.

Online, things are just as exciting. Web designs have started to appear which are attempting to emulate print layouts by displaying text content using magazine and newspaper columns.

Setting text in columns like this can improve readability by reducing scrolling and chopping sentences into shorter chunks, but reading becomes tedious if the articles are more than a few hundred words long. Layouts can end up looking confusing and busy.

The good news is that implementing multi-column text can work brilliantly in certain designs, and is very easy to implement in CSS3. The technique is supported by Safari, Firefox and Chrome, and the W3C specification has all sorts of customisable options for vertical rules, line breaks and so on.

With multi-column css, designers don't need to use floated divs to produce the columns, so the content isn't placed into separate divs to create the effect - the text simply flows in columns across a single containing area, exactly the way it does in InDesign. The css creates the columns and they can be edited quickly to alter the layout.

In the example here, I've created a div called #multi, which will split a paragraph of placeholder text into two equally-sized columns, based on the width of the div they have to occupy.

The CSS is simple for this technique, but much like css3 rounded corners, we need to accommodate Mozilla and the webkit browsers separately.

The column-count property divides a div into columns of equal width. The amount of columns is specified by the value you give the count. To control the width of the column spacing, we use the column-gap property. This is the equivalent of the guttering you might set using InDesign to lay out a print document.

#multi {
-moz-column-count: 2; /* for Mozilla*/
-moz-column-gap: 20px;
-webkit-column-count: 2; /* for Safari and Chrome*/
-webkit-column-gap: 20px;

I've just pasted some lorem ipsum into the div, making sure there are no extra line breaks or spaces in your copy. And here is how it displays -

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.

Looks great, but here is what is really cool about the technique. Let's say I want to split the paragraph up into 4 columns, not 2.

All I have to do is adjust the css like this -

-moz-column-count: 4;
-moz-column-gap: 20px;
-webkit-column-count: 4;
-webkit-column-gap: 20px;

and the result is -

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.

Wow. And that's it. Try laying text out like this using divs and floats and it will take forever and probably never look right.

And for anyone viewing this post in Internet Explorer, you won't see it because multi-columns aren't supported using css3. There are a few javascript solutions however, like this one, which are simple to implement and work across the more stable IE versions.

W3c Multi-Column specification
Thinking For a Living

The Future According to Adobe

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Earlier this week I attended a seminar at Tidalfire, an Adobe authorised training and consultancy group in Edinburgh, to hear Adobe's Product Design Head Steve Burnard do a couple of talks on workflow in CS4.

This was as part of a series of Adobe seminars in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Adobe staff and Tidalfire's team of experts delivering presentations on various aspects of Creative Suite, ranging from developing Air applications to creating interactive pdfs and using electronic forms.

Burnard looked at design for both print and web, demonstrating some great roundtripping between Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Flash. Much of this I had already checked out when CS4 launched, but the overall workflow improvements definitely raised some interesting questions about the delivery of lab-based software skills in Further Education.

Each time the pace of change in digital media seems to reach a plateau, something new appears that stimulates another surge forward. The industry is only just coming to terms with how InDesign has revolutionised print publishing, and social networking has redefined online interaction, and now have Adobe Air, which brings deployed, out-of-browser interaction to a whole new level.

The demise of design for print has been greatly exaggerated, but the Adobe mantra these days is clear - design for print only is definitely on its way out.

Adobe recently announced a big investment in digital publishing for book, newspaper and magazine publishers. This comes in the wake of the success of Adobe's collaboration with the New York Times to create the AIR-based Times Reader 2.0, which, incidentally, Steve Burnard demoed to great effect during his talk.

Where it will all end nobody knows, but we are looking at a new wave of digital interaction, and as usual we are all playing catch-up.

More info:

Adobe Air
NYT announces Times Reader 2.0

Positive Vibes from Negative Space

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Celebrities Guess Who

I'm drawing up my order list of new books for the Design section in the college library, and top of my list is 'Negative Space', by Noma Bar, which was published back in September.

Bar is one of the best illustrators at work today, and is renowned for his visually stunning yet minimal designs that have appeared in the likes of Time Out, Wired, The Guardian, The Economist and Esquire.

His stuff deals with many of the most pressing, emotive and complex issues of our times, and its all done with simple shapes, nice vector-based lines, and a huge amount of dazzling wit.

The term "negative space" refers to the space that surrounds the subject, and how it can provide shape and meaning. Bar's work uses this idea brilliantly and it all seems so effortless. From a practical design viewpoint, its great for students to see good examples of how less can be more, how comples messages don't always need typography, and that Adobe Illustrator is still the daddy :)

See also:
Dutch Uncle Agency - Noma Bar
Creative Review review
Creative Bits article

Examples from the book:


Squeezing Iraq


Typesetting the Ergodic Novel

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Graphic Designers are closely concerned with how the shape and form of typography can either assist or hinder the flow of reading. At their disposal are millions of typefaces, a fixed amount of whitespace, and techniques such as leading, kerning, tracking, point-size and so on.

But what exactly is 'the flow' of reading?

The flow of reading printed matter is a simple process which involves 'trivial' extranoematic effort. In other words, it's about moving one's eyes along lines of text, absorbing the meaning, and then turning pages. The words supply us with the visual and imaginative stimuli, and the form of the lettering is what draws us along each sentence.

In advertising, magazines, direct mail, animation, and poetry, text can of course be displayed in all sorts of 'non-trivial' ways, where straighforward horizontal reading is broken up or even abandoned.

Some novels also present type in this way. They tend to be a lot less common and are generally considered 'difficult' if they are well-known but hardly read, or 'cult' if they are less well-known but probably more read.

These sorts of novels are referred to as 'ergodic' literature, where nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. The typesetting and the text layout places a responsibility on the reader to re-align the pages, or use an extra level of effort to read the text.

One example I referred to recently was Markus Kutter's 'Schiff Nach Europa' - an obscure novel written in 1958 whose main claim to fame is its amazing cover and typesetting, designed by Swiss Style supremo Karl Gerstner.

Two other better-known (and brilliant) examples are 'The Journal of Albion Moonlight', by Kenneth Patchen (New Directions, 1941) and 'House of Leaves' by Mark Danielewski (Random House, 2000).

Patchen's 'Albion Moonlight' is a surreal anti-war novel that mixes poetry, monologue, sketching, and inventive typesetting into a novel which was an astounding work when it came out in 1941. It had a big influence on the Beat writers a decade or so later. Patchen went on to become a major American Poet.

Sections of the book feature single word paragraphs, in huge pointsize type, as well as margin notes, sketches, and columns filled with different pointsized type.

Page 312, Albion Moonlight

Coverart : Albion Moonlight.

'House of Leaves' written more than half a century later, is now a modern classic, and was one of the first novels of the digital age to feature chapter releases online. The typesetting features huge tracts of blank pages, sketches, diagrams, and clipped textwrap areas.

House of Leaves, page 134.

There are further examples - Joyce's 'Ulysses', 'USA' by Dos Passos, and Alasdair Gray's amazing '1982 Janine', which has a whole chapter set in diagonal and upside down text as four narrators try to talk at the same time.

It's a pity ergodic novels are so rare, they are interesting to design, fun to read, great to look at.

Bauhaus - 400 Works @ MoMA

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Acidhaus Bauhaus T-shirt, 1990's

If you are lucky enough to be in New York between now and Christmas, add an extra entry to your 'unmissables' list - MoMA’s first major exhibition since 1938 of Bauhaus work.

Still the most famous school of avant-garde art, the Bauhaus was the quintessential collaborative community, producing stuff that no-one had seen or thought of before, in a place no-one had thought of building before.

Formed in 1919 and at it's peak during the early Weimar Republic, the school's ethos was to embrace functionality, and its experiments with design have had a lasting influence on visual communication - most notably in advertising, interior design, and print layout (eg check out my post about Barak Obama's campaign posters).

This exhibition features a mind-boggling four hundred works that reflect the broad range of the school’s output in graphics, architecture, painting, furniture, industrial design, photography, textiles, ceramics, theater design, and sculpture.

And most are by some of the great names of 20th Century Art - Vasily Kandinsky, Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Lilly Reich and many others.

For me, the Bauhaus revolutionised the teaching of the creative process, fusing the connections between many different disciplines into one practical approach. The results were always original and often way ahead of their time.

And of course the enduring power of the Bauhaus is the way in which its typography, visual layout, creative spirit, and unique reputation seems to inspire students when they first encounter it.

See Also :
Bauhaus @ MoMA - New York Times review
Bauhaus Archive
Bauhaus wiki

Bauhaus Teaching Plan:

Teaching Theory at the Bauhaus

Vertical Rhythm and How to Get It

Saturday, 24 October 2009

William S. Burroughs once said that 'writing is fifty years behind painting', and in the digital design world, this idea could equally be applied to print typography and its relatively cumbersome and youthful web-based cousin.

But with more print-based designers now delivering for the web, one consequence has been a huge amount of interest in web typography, as print-based ideas and techniques transfer from page to screen. And of course, a lot of it is down to CSS and standardisation across the major browsers.

With the new versions of Safari, Opera and Mozilla's Firefox all able to support CSS3, we not only have styling that can (to varying degrees) emulate tracking, leading and kerning, we've also got the ability to switch between cases, apply drop shadows, and reliably import any font we want into browsers using the @font-face property.

One further concept coming into the mix is 'vertical rhythm' - the way text can be aligned to a baseline grid that produces measured, balanced paragraphs which greatly improve readability.

It's old hat for print-based designers working in Adobe InDesign, but only a tiny minority of web designers attempt to control their text in this way. This is because its time-consuming to do and requires a solid knowledge of CSS.

But the pay-off is great looking text and a harmonious layout.

The basic idea behind vertical rhythm is to keep text lined up on an imaginary grid of evenly spaced horizontal lines (just like an old school jotter), all the way down the page. This greatly improves legibility, and creates a visual continuity that allows readers to spend a bit longer in front of the screen.

How is all this done? By controlling font size, line-height, and margins.

The key is to set the line-height globally, so it's height is inherited all the way down through the page, and to use relative font sizing rather than pixels to display text. In both instances, the measurements are done using em's, not pixels.

Because the em is a relative measurement based on the square of the font size at that particular point, sizings become scaleable for different browser settings. Everything maintains proportion, and the designer has better control over text size, line-height and margins.

There are some very good articles out there on how its all done. One standout example is 'Setting Type on the Web to a Baseline Grid' by Wilson Miner, posted on alistapart.com. There are also a few CSS generators available online that will customise a set of em-based global styles for you, which you can then tweak and paste into your css files.

All I would say is that although its tricky, its worth pursuing to get the balanced rhythm a good typographer would expect on a printed page, and you can then re-use your settings for other web projects.

From a teaching perspective, it also means that the theory and technicalities of typography can be delivered in a more blended approach across the print and web disiplines.

More :
CSS Vertical Rhythm Generator
Vertical Motion in Web Typography
Typography : Baseline Rhythm Deciphered

iPhoning It In

Saturday, 17 October 2009

A fellow lecturer at work bought an iPhone over the summer break, and is now twirling his right index finger around the 3-inch screen during his breaks. He is adamant that he can never go back; the iPhone is the beginning of the future.

And admittedly, on first look, Apple's iPhone is even more impressive than the iPod was. In fact, I was blown away when my colleague demonstrated myPantone, a clever pantone palette program he downloaded to it. Its a minor revolution in timesaving for the web designer, and a triumph of usability that Jacob Nielsen could only have dreamed of just a few years ago.

But the iPhone suffers from the same achilles heel as many previous ground-breaking gadgets - everyone wants it to do things it was never meant to do.

As an example, a recently interviewed a student for a place on Graphic Design HND, and I arranged a room with a nice big table and a fast Mac with CS4 on it. He assured me beforehand that he was brinign along his portfolio. What I didn't expect though was a dozen or so examples being shown to me on an iPhone.

What might have been a decent set of doublepage spreads was hardly likely to shine at 1/20th its normal presentation size, and any ability with type was impossible to see. And yet apparently designers are interviewing at agencies, presenting their portfolios in just this way.

The student then mentioned Adobe's stripped-down Photoshop application for the iPhone, which is only available in the US at the moment. Featuring basic tasks such as image rotation, cropping and flipping as well as adjusting exposure and saturation, the app integrates with the free 2GB Photoshop.com account. Apparently, it has already passed 1 million downloads in less than 2 weeks. Read more about it straight from Adobe themselves. They even include a link to a clever spoof announcing a full-blown CS3 version with callcenter support!

One thing is for sure - in two years' time you'll be able to project 300ppi work and touch sensitive webpages from a phone onto a white board, or even a hologram station. So for now, a 3-inch screen is just a pixellated downsample of what might be, and I can see the novelty of cropping images wearing off in no time at all.

Still, the mobility and convenience of the iPhone, coupled with its aesthetic appeal do give it a cultural gravitas that's going to attract designers. And if your prospective employer has bought into iPhone, then what he or she is looking at on it may not be as important as the act of doing it.

Never Mind the Bollocks... or the Sex Pistols

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The graphic mashup, or branding sample, is back in the news. As I posted earlier this year, a furniture shop in Edinburgh used a brilliant IKEA mashup, featuring the wordplay 'IKANA' as part of their summer sale campaign.

And now, none other than the Sex Pistols are threatening legal action against an ice-cream company who have produced an advert borrowing heavily from Jamie Reid's famous God Save the Queen artwork of 1977 -

God Save the Queen

'Icecreamists', as they amusingly call themselves, are the company behind the ad campaign. They are using the strapline "God Save the Cream" on a black and pink sample which bears a noticeable resemblance to the aforementioned famous 7" single sleeve, and mimicks the Pistols visual imagery in general. Sounds great, and it doesn't look too bad either :

God Save the Cream

From what I've read, Icecreamists are running a concession within the Selfridges storefront on Oxford Street, central London, until November. They describe their company as a "subversive ice-cream brand", and one of their products is an ice-cream cocktail called the Sex Pistol, which comes with a shot of absinthe.

So far, I am liking this company a lot.

Which is why it's so disappointing to hear that the Sex pistols, who championed the do-it-yourself ethos, and made getting banned the essential punk credential, are now attempting to ban somebody who has subverted them.

Lawyers representing the band (further gasps and gobs of incredulity) have written to Icecreamists demanding that they stop using the Sex Pistols-related strapline and imagery on all their promotional material.

God only knows how much the Pistols, Lydon in particular, has made in royalty rights from music, posters and everything else that has been flogged to death since the band's demise in 1978. Of course the whole concept the band were responsible for creating has by-and-large been swallowed up by modern commercialism, and this saga should actually be welcomed as a breath of fresh air to the originators.

Which brings us to the real crux of the matter.

Nowadays, what's rotten about Johnny isn't his teeth, or his hair, or his snarl, but his penchant for embarrassing publicity stunts. These include appearing in a £5m TV campaign for the Country Life butter, getting marooned in a reality TV show, and reforming the Pistols as a novelty stadium band - giving performances where he spends half the time boasting about being 50 and having a beer belly (see Julien Temple's film of the Pistols Reunion Live in London, 2008).

Only the music remains now, and of course the imagery, which has a life of its own and belongs to us all.

The Message is the Medium

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Yes, you read it right, I didn't get the words mixed up. In his seminal book 'Understanding Media', Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in the late 1960's that 'the medium is the message'.

But in the intervening half a century, the digital revolution has given us so much personal broadcasting power that the act of communicating (and how we go about it) is almost as important as the actual content of our instant emails, video uploads, texts, podcasts, twitters and blogs. All of which means that designers, more than ever, are visual psychologists.

These days the design concepts of functionality, materials and content are just about obsolete. Apparently, its about convergence, fusion, harmony and light.

Just ask Elliot Park, Principal Designer at Samsung, the world's most successful electronics (and hence gadget-producing) company.

Park appeared on a BBC4 programme last week called 'Upgrade Me'. The programme is part of Electric Revolution - a BBC Four season charting the rise of today's globally-linked, instantly-gratified digital culture.

It was presented by writer and poet Simon Armitage, who examined our obsession with gadgets, and explored why the newest upgrade is so crucial to our enjoyment of technology. He admitted he couldn't live without his iPhone, but at least he could remember the days when turning up on your bike at your local record shop to get the latest 7" single by your favourite band was the highlight of your week.

There were some great moments - a class of secondary school pupils attempting to play a Madonna LP on Armitage's 1970's childhood Dansette, a giant flat TV screen which displays a Google Earth feed showing where the members of your family are at any instant, and the aformentioned Samsung's new Pebble-shaped MP3 player (see below)that looks like you've just picked it up from some rolling shoreline on a sunday stroll.

Samsung Pebble MP3 Player

But the crux of Armitage's investigation came when he met Park in Seoul, at Samsung's Headquarters (which ironically enough looks like some huge physical tribute to glory days of the Bauhaus movement).

We got a glimpse of a design meeting about the new Jet range of mobile phones. It reminded me of my days in the games industry, working on titles for EA and Sony. The designers were sitting around a table, with ridiculous hats on, in goatee beards, chewing forever-lasting gum and drinking lukewarm Grande Lattes. And behind them on a flipchart was their enigmatic mindmap, with buzzwords like confidence, hybrid & fusion, harmony & contrast, light as material.

It all gelled with Park's proclamation that what you feel about the product is more important that what you see, or what it actually does. And the high-profile advertising that supports the jet phone is equally revealing - the 'Impatience is a Virtue' campaign.

Impatience is a Virtue

And so we come back to Marshall McLuhan. What your communication device feels like to you, and what it looks like to others who watch you doing whatever it is you do on your device, is more important than what you are actually saying.

The message is the medium. Design exploits our vanity. Design is about capturing emotion. Long live design.

Sports Brothers Grim

Friday, 18 September 2009

It was one of the 20th Century's great branding stories, and its still not over just yet.

Two of the world's most instantly recognisable sports brands, purveyors of quintessential logo icons, Puma and Adidas, have been in the news recently. Apparently the current owners in both camps have decided to bury the hatchet and make up, so ending one of sports greatest and most bitter rivalries.

The choice of champion runners, footballers and swimmers for almost a century, both companies were both founded in the same small medieval German town of Herzogenaurach by brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler.

The pair started making sports shoes in their mother's laundry room in the 1920s before becoming sport and business giants. Along the way they worked for the Nazis, invented the studded football shoe, created two of the greatest logotypes of all time, and courted everyone from Pele to Mark Spitz, Muhammed Ali to Boris Becker, Zinedine Zidane to Ronaldo and beyond.

But the real story lies in the obsessive and amazing feud that followed their departure from German Sports firm Dassler in 1943. Since that time, every technical innovation, branding concept, sports contract and advertising coup has been disputed by each side. Even in death, the brothers made sure they were buried in the same town but as far away from each other as possible.

Herzogenaurach is still suffering the consequences, with a dynamic not unlike the Old Firm situation in Glasgow - the enmity continues to divide the north Bavarian town, nicknamed the "place of bent necks" because everyone checks out everyone else's shoes, certain areas seem tied to one or the other brand, and rival staff employed by either company live separate lives.

Dutch author and journalist Barbara Smit has written an account of the feud, called "Drei Streifen gegen Puma," or "Three Stripes Versus Puma,".

Three Stripes V Puma

The book tracks the rise of the Dassler brothers from pre-war Germany through to the modern era, and charts their decline, as they were caught off guard by Nike and the failure to spot new trends like the boom in running.

Of course Adidas and Puma both recovered from their brushes with disaster and still play a major part in the $17 billion worldwide sports shoe industry.

Adidas have always seemed the more elegant of the two companies - I guess due to their significantly more refined logo and branding. But Puma are actually the more profitable business. You couldn't have made it up.

More on this -
Adidas v Puma ITN Report
Shoe Wars

IKEA KANA complain

Sunday, 2 August 2009

In a recent post about mashup graphics, 'Naked Re-Lunch', I briefly mentioned the legal implications of taking the form to its logical extreme by creating 'cut-up' advertising - where branding visuals and trademarks could be collaged and mixed up by competing organisations. A recent case has surfaced that seems to provide a taster of what might follow.

A small Scottish company. Olympian Furniture, has been threatened with legal action by Swedish giant IKEA, over a clever sales campaign which features a mashup and wordplay gag based on the IKEA branding.

Olympian IKANA campaign

Olympian uses the phrase "IKANA believe how good this summer sale is" - amusing bit of Scottish vernacular wordplay, with the text in yellow bold sans on a blue background – the IKEA livery and typography. The final touch is the white outline couch illustration. The Olympian campaign is online, in-store in its outlets in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Giffnock, and on the Glasgow Underground.

IKEA, love them or hate them, are worth £21 billion, and provide almost any home interior solution you can think of based around their cleverly named modular designs(which owe a great deal to Bauhaus, but that's another story).

When it comes to branding, and ultimately to money, most organisations have a distinctly poor sense of humour, and IKEA is no exception.

Perhaps, instead of threatening a court case that could ruin a small business employing about 30 people, IKEA should take the joke and reuse it themselves with their presumably considerable creative resources.

Or maybe IKEA are just smarting at the catchphrase on the IKANA ads - 'Real Furniture With Personality'.

Surf's Up for a Postmodern Giant

Monday, 27 July 2009

"He's back.... the most important and elusive writer of his generation returns with a magnificently crazy and compelling psychedelic yarn about the sixties, featuring new noir hero, private eye Doc Sportello."

So reads the blurb on the back cover of 'Inherent Vice', the soon-to-be-published eighth novel by one of the greats of modern literature, Thomas Pynchon. The book is due out at the beginning of August, but don't expect the blurb to be accompanied by a picture of the author. A spectacular recluse, Pynchon has never appeared on TV or radio, and hasn't been photographed or interviewed since he began writing back in the early 1960's.

Thomas Pynchon appears in the Simpsons, 2004. His only 'public' appearance since his debut novel 'V' came out in 1963 was as recent as 2004, in an episode of the Simpsons, where he lent his voice to his own character, but wore a paper bag on his head.

Pynchon's fantastic imagination has a very visual quality to it, and his books tend to inspire other writers and artists. Gravity's Rainbow, for example, was recently reimagined as illustration by the artist Zak Smith, in his amazing 'Pictures Showing What Happens on Every Page of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow' - all 768 pages of it. The actual illustrations are on permanent display in the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York.

But back to Inherent Vice. Based on the few reviews I've read, the new book is short by Pynchon's standards, at just over 400 pages, is set in a definite genre (noir fiction), and may well turn out to be his most accessible work yet.

Inherent Vice (2009)

The new novel is ostensibly about a group of drifters and surfing stoneheads, caught up in a bizarre noir murder plot (think the Big Lebowski, but infused with Pynchon's trademark paranoia and overwritten virtuoso stylisations).

And a quick glance at the coverart seems to confirm that description - surf artist Darshan Zenith's "Eternal Summer" - a 1959 Cadillac Hearse (in diecast metal) is parked in front of the Endless Summer Surf Shop, coupled with some brilliantly offbeat neon type in an italicised geometric sans serif (which looks a lot like Avenir).

Pynchon's previous novels are regularly reissued, and there is a considerable back catalogue of inventive coverart spanning his output, and reflecting his themes of politics, paranoia, machinery and pop culture.

The cover was apparently picked by Pynchon himself, and it has a curiously garish, low-brow 1970's reprint look about it, which (whether intentional or not) is a refreshing contrast to the current cover design taste for elegant and clean-looking artwork. One thing is for sure - the novel will certainly be a refreshing contrast to just about everything else that's out there these days...

More -
Thomas Pynchon on Wikipedia

Sample Cover Art -
'Crying of Lot 49'

Inherent Vice Reviews -
The Observer
The Times
The New Yorker
Blog Critics

7/7 Memorial

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The 7/7 Memorial was unveiled today in Hyde Park in London's West End, on the 4th Anniversary of the tragedy.

The memorial consists of 52 stainless steel pillars, or 'stellae', one for each victim. Each one is 3 metres high, and they are grouped in four clusters, to mark the four locations of the attacks - Tavistock Square, Edgware Road, King's Cross and Aldgate.

The memorial and the plaque

the 52 stainless steel stellae

There is also a 1.4 tonne stainless steel plaque with the names of all those who were killed, engraved in a very clean sans typeface. This week's Creative Review blog features an informative analysis of the typography.

Despite the modernity of the lines and the materials, it strikes me how much the memorial resembles a complex of bronze-age standing stones, giving it a very pagan, brooding power.

When the architects, Carmody & Groarke, were interviewed on the BBC, they talked about their collaboration with Andrew Gormley, and their close consultation with the families of the victims, but there was no mention of this visual connection. Strangely, in other various reviews I've read, no-one has yet alluded to it. Judge, and interpret, for yourself.

In Pictures 7/7 Pillar Memorial.

Burns Interpretations

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ae Fond Kiss - Anita Wroblewska

2009 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet and an iconic figure in popular literature. In support of the Scottish Government’s ‘Homecoming Scotland’ celebrations, the event has been celebrated in many ways across the world during the year. This seemed like an ideal subject for a project for the NC Graphic Design students at Edinburgh’s Telford College.

The brief was to create artwork that would visually render Burn's work ina contemporary light, thus bringing the Bard's poetry to a younger audience. Each piece is a double-page spread which interprets one of Burns’ poems or songs. The imagery is often photographic, sometimes illustrative, and necessarily typographic, but tries to avoid clichéd Scottish images such as thistles, tartan and the traditional portrait of Burns.

On A Suicide - Robert Downie.

The overall quality here lacks consistency, but the visual styles, and the attempts to communicate thematic ideas are surprisngly strong for such a formative group. And for some of them this was a first introduction to the genius of Burns.

Check out the book in pdf format. The title is due for publication in 2010.