Friday, 26 November 2010

'Mr Toshiba dies in an freak yachting accident', and other events.

This week I was fortunate enough to participate in a workshop with designer and director Johnny Hardstaff. He has created many innovative moving image works, and has represented many leading brands including Toshiba, Sony and Orange.

Our brief was to develop a new identity for the brand Toshiba. We had 24 hours to develop our strongest idea, with the focus not on a final, crafted piece, but the generation of our concept. As Johnny explained "original ideas are the only valuable currency now. Great ideas are everything".

It was an intense couple of days: with frantic brainstorming, energetic group crits with Johnny and constant updates to the brief - which included the budget of the campaign being frequently reduced and the owner of Toshiba dying in a "freak yachting accident". Johnny would introduce more and more (somewhat ridiculous) changes, for instance we were told not to use the colour blue in our work, and that "Mr Toshiba" hated Alsatian dogs and lions, and therefore did not want these to be included in our ideas. Although it seemed ridiculous, he explained that we will face similar restrictions and changes when entering the industry, and this is something we will need to be able to work around. Clients will know what they want, and how they want it. It also made the whole process really exciting and fun.

My concept developed around the idea of creating a Utopic experience for the customers, with Toshiba as the means in which to achieve this through the use of their products. I was one of the individuals picked to pitch my idea in front of the group, and it was agreed that this was quite a strong concept. I chose the phrase "THIS IS NOT A DYSTOPIA" as something to draw my audience in, and this seemed to be quite a successful ploy. However, Johnny felt that my application of my concept (of getting the public to create their own idea of a utopia, through interactive and visual effects) was somewhat not defined enough. I completely agreed with him and the rest of the group; I liked my idea but really struggled with producing something that I felt worked well at presenting it.

It was a really valuable - if tiring - couple of days, and Johnny was brilliant at motivating us and making us aware of different sides to design. I really enjoyed it, and feel that the exercise will benefit the way I approach my work, and employment, in the future. It's definitely good not to be scared: "it's really good for your brain / self reliance / confidence".

Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.

 - I couldn't have put this better myself. The above quote is from American designer Paul Rand, best known for his corporate logo designs. I've been looking at his work during my latest project, as he has produced some wonderful book layouts - many of which are designed for children - that are so aesthetically beautiful that I feel they should be aimed at older ages also. Here's a selection of my favourites:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Rafael Lozano-Hemmer creates artworks that depend on your participation to exist. This exhibition records your pulse, fingerprints, voice and image, and these recordings form the actual content of the works. The content is entirely "crowdsourced", to use internet terminology. In this sense the works are playful, open and inclusive.

However, there is also a more ominous or predatory nature at play. The works use biometric and surveillance technology employed by governments and corporations to profile, control and predict our behaviours in the name of efficiency or safety. These tools have built-in prejudices, as when they are used for ethnic profiling.

In an age of reality TV, mobile computing, virtual economies, Google street view and credit databases, Lozano-Hemmer sees technology as an inevitable part of our culture. His approach is to "misuse" the technology to create experiences of connection and complicity by using ambiguity, irony, repetition, performance and self-representation.

I really enjoyed this exhibition. The idea that I was helping to contribute to the work that was on display was an interesting one. For me, tactile and interactive design is really important, and a quality that I want to incorporate into my own work more. 

OWT creative

3 members of the design collective OWT creative; Ben Kither, Jon Hannan and Sarah Stapleton - who I have blogged about previously - gave us a presentation of their work and advice on what to expect during our final year on the course. The group are previous students of Design and Art Direction at MMU, so it was valuable to hear about their own experiences of the course and what to expect in this final push towards graduation. They were very relaxed and helpful; and gave some good advice on how to cope with workloads, approach our briefs, contact designers and produce good portfolios. They are now embarking upon their studies in a masters. I was a little disappointed that they didn't give us much of an insight into the masters course, as this is something that I wanted to know more about, and I think it was the reason Hitch had asked them to speak to us, but despite this the presentation was helpful and interesting.

Printed and Published

The Special Collections area at Sir Kenneth Green Library hosted an exhibition of book design and letterpress printing from Bracketpress (2005-10). The collection comprised of printed books, pamphlets, commercial designs and printed matter, all of which had been produced using traditional printing methods. The pieces were beautiful; I am a big fan of this style of work, as type and image seems a lot more considered and well-presented when it is printed using traditional letterpress techniques rather than digital methods. They seem far more special and precious. Here are some of my favourite pieces:

No. 26: Love Bold and in CAPS [of course], letterpressed postcard:

Nobody's Child Penny Rimbaud, pamphlet:

This Crippled Flesh by Penny Rimbaud, book:

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Graphic Nothing.

Some amazing work by Graphic Nothing; a Manchester-based designer. His posters are created using the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio. I really love his work, it is bold and interesting with a very complex concept behind them, yet the designs are all minimal. I would love to have these on my wall!

Fibonacci numbers used to produce colour values.

Segment size related back to the numbers in the sequence.

Triangle tessellation created through following the sequence.

1.6180339887...and so on

I've been looking at the Fibonacci sequence and the golden number (1.618 0339 887...etc) during my research for my latest project. Really interested in the relationship this series of numbers has on plants and nature, and life in general. It's a very powerful and influential numbers and appears in the structure, layout and design of many things around us. Examples are pine cones, petal and leaf arrangements in flowers, trees and plants, branch growth and the proportions of many life forms, to name but a few. The Egyptians also used it to create the pyramids and it can even help to explain population growth in rabbits and other species.

I created the above typeface by using sections of a Fibonacci spiral (see illustration below) and rearranging them to produce the letter forms. I quite like how it has turned out, but this is only a starting point for this brief as I feel my outcomes need to be a lot more developed. I want to show the importance of this magical number in life. It's a tough idea, but one that I hope will be interesting!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Cabinets, envelopes, boxes and tins.

Today I visited the Herbarium at Manchester Museum, in order to gain a wider insight into the world of plant matter while working on my most recent project "Not Just Fleurons". The work in the Herbarium is based upon the extensive research and reference collections of preserved plants. There are about one million specimens, from all across the world; and some of which are the first ever specimens to have been recorded from that particular species.

I was in awe at just how much there was to look at; it was all fairly overwhelming and I really wasn't sure where to begin. I was also quite aware that the majority of the specimens were extremely fragile, often only one-of-a-kind and much of them up to 200 years old, so handling them was quite a daunting experience. 

Although the plants were fascinating in themselves, I was more intrigued by the way in which they had been collected and stored. There were hundreds upon hundreds of carefully filed boxes and cabinets - some of which featuring some really beautiful old stamps and type. There were also boxes of small packages containing moss samples, which had been intricately folded up in old newspaper sheets, old letters and envelopes dating back to the 1800s. The type on the paper and tactile quality of these little packages were really intriguing and fragile; they seemed a lot more precious knowing that they were wrapped in fragments of the past. A lot of these were then stored in old cigarette tins and old packaging, which featured some really lovely type and illustrations. 

Maybe I missed the point of this visit slightly - I ended up spending more time looking at the packaging than I did the actual plant matter. However, this was possibly a valid activity too. My brief is to come up with a way of showing the importance that plants have on our lives; and the way in which they are so carefully stored shows that they are treasured by many. People have spent a long time collecting, referencing, studying and curating these millions of specimens. If plants weren't important to us then this wouldn't be done. The way in which they are stored becomes a part of how we treasure these species; time is taken in keeping them in decent condition (mercury solution is used to preserve and reduce the risk of insect infestation - which is extremely poisonous to humans) so it is clear that these are highly valued fragments of information.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

More than just fleurons...

I love the textures and details that plants / plant fossils can produce when photographed closely.

Day at the Museum.

I went to Manchester Museum today for the first time; it's been somewhere I have wanted to go since I moved up north but I've never got round to it. I was really impressed with what they had on display - I felt like a child! I am fascinated in all things historical, looking at artefacts from our past just amazes me. Here's some images from the trip, lots of which are of spirals as I have been looking at the Fibonacci Series (how spirals are constructed) in my latest project.

Reasons to be Cheerful

...the Life and Work of Barney Bubbles.

Paul Gorman, journalist, author and owner of fashion label The Look Presents, came to talk to us about Barney Bubbles; the radical graphic designer of the 70s and 80s. Although radical and highly acclaimed, Bubbles was an incredibly private individual; never signing his work or attending interviews. In fact Bubbles, whose name is actually Colin Fulcher, only ever gave one interview throughout his whole career - and poignantly only 2 years to the date before his death in 1983 - to The Face magazine, and provided them only with a collaged portrait (below) rather than a photo in order to maintain his anonymity. His career was not really recorded of celebrated until long after his death, and much of his work is still being identified.

Bubbles embraced messiness; his work and concepts influenced many designers, for instance Peter Saville. He is most renowned for his distinctive contribution to the graphic design associated with the British independent music scene.

I've admired the work of Barney Bubbles for a long time now, however I did not realise the vast array he had produced - or even the fact that he wanted to remain away from the public eye. I'm not sure what my opinion is of his choice to remain private, but I do feel that it was a shame he couldn't step forward and take credit for the amazing work he had produced. It is true to say he was a very troubled man; he suffered from depression and long-term financial problems, which eventually led to him taking his own life. I think it is significant to mention that his death occurred just 2 months before the introduction of the Apple Mac computer - Bubbles worked entirely by hand and rigidly stuck to using grids, despite his work being quite "messy". However by the time his death, design styles had changed - there was less of a need for his quirky style, which led to rejection from some clients. This definitely contributed to him wanting to end his life long before it could have been celebrated. I think this is quite a poignant thing; I would hate to find myself becoming less and less popular due to the changing of styles. I feel it is important to remain open and not too close-minded with the way that you approach your work; but also maintaining those elements that are recognisable to you. In the current age of the digital and ever-evolving technologies and design techniques, this is a really difficult skill to hold on to, and something that I will need to refine when leaving university and taking on work in the outside world.