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Archived posts: Events

Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice

Earlier today we finally made it along to the fantastic Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice exhibition at Central Saint Martins. The show is a potted history of lettering and typography, featuring examples from the college’s Museum & Study Collection and its Central Lettering Record, as well as some bits and bobs from alumni.

There are a whole series of photographs of Edward Johnston’s incredible type drawings on blackboards:

It’s an absolute feast of a show, which we can’t recommend enough. It’s only open for a few more days (it ends on Saturday 12 April), so if you haven’t been, get along, you won’t regret it. (Oh, and Professor Phil Baines, co-curator of the show, will be giving a tour of the exhibition on Thursday 10 April at 1pm.) Read more about the show on the Eye blog.

RDI Summer School 2013

Well now, would you look at this – after an absence of four years, the RSA’s Royal Designers Summer School has risen up like a phoenix!

The Summer School is a chance for twenty-four young designers (they’re using the word ‘young’ in its most forgiving form – it means any designer with between five and fifteen years of industry experience) to go and get creative with a cluster of the RSA’s Royal Designers for Industry. The Royal Designers are an august bunch of the great and the good from the design world, and include folk such as: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Sir Peter Blake, Margaret Calvert, Mike Dempsey, Mark Farrow, Sir Kenneth Grange, Thomas Heatherwick, Margaret Howell and Sir Jonathan Ive. Not a bad bunch of people to spend four days in the country with…

They’re also looking for twelve ‘Wildcards’ – people who use design, commission it, or are otherwise touched by it – to add a bit of spice to the event.

We designed the identity for the school, and can’t recommend it enough. You never really know quite what form it’s going to take, but it’s always really inspiring, and creates connections that reverberate for years afterwards.

The school takes place from Thursday 5 to Sunday 8 September, at Dartington Hall in Devon, and is subsidised by the Royal Designers and their supporters – so the cost is just £200. Bargain right?

Applications are open until Friday 28 June – so get your skates on!

Secret Cinema 20 – All G.O.O.D.

Watching a film at the cinema is largely a passive activity, right? You sit back in your seat at the local fleapit or multiplex, munching on snacks, and let the film wash over you. The film ends, you get up and leave.

The folks at Secret Cinema think differently though – they think that the experience of watching a film should be just that – an experience. Since 2007 they’ve been creating interactive experiences for film-goers, blending the worlds of cinema, theatre and cabaret into single events.

They start by finding a unique location, and then work outwards from there to see what classic film most suits that building or space. They then build a dramatic world around their chosen film, creating site-specific sets and narratives inspired by it, all fleshed out with a host of talented actors. Instead of just watching a film, the audience interacts with the space, the sets and the cast, before, during, and after watching the movie; a sort of immersive cinema.

With each event, you don’t find out what the film is until you get to the location. Hints are dropped in the lead up to the events, through a mix of websites, social media, and warm-up happenings, but to be honest, everyone is generally still guessing until they get there (hence the name).

The latest Secret Cinema show (their twentieth) kicked off a couple of weeks ago in London, and we went along last week to check it out.

Now, of course, because of their policy of secrecy, it’s a tad tricky to review one of their events until after it’s finished its run. If you do a full review, you totally give the game away, and risk spoiling it for anyone who’s not yet been.

So, we’re going to talk about the build-up to the event (let’s call it SC20), and talk in general terms about how it felt to be there. We’re not going to tell you what the film is, nor mention anything too specific, but if you want to steer clear of knowing anything at all about it, you might want to skip the rest of this post.

We were initially booked in to go along on during the opening week, but due to a last minute licensing issue, the first few shows were cancelled. Given the massive complexity of putting on a show of this kind, that must have been a nightmare for the organisers, but judging from the online chit-chat it was for ticket holders too, many of whom had booked time off work and travelled fair distances to attend. To their credit, the SC team put on a replacement screening of Footloose over the weekend by way of apology, and offered replacement tickets too – but it shows the risks you run when you’re putting on such unique events.

For the online and social media side of SC20, we were asked to log-in to the G.O.O.D. Intranet system, where we had to fill out a work appraisal, as new employees of the G.O.O.D. organisation. This created a unique Social ID number which would provide access to the event.

All new employees were also invited to attend a global gathering warm-up event in London’s Docklands, and directed to a video showing dance instructions for a collective dance based on the promo for Atoms for Peace’s track Ingenue, featuring Thom Yorke’s singular dance moves.

We didn’t make it along to the warm-up, but a fair few folk did, and it looked like a fun old time.

Of course, this left us wondering whether Secret Cinema were doing something different with SC20 – was it going to be an Atoms for Peace gig instead of a movie? Or perhaps something to do with music videos? Based on our experience, these were red herrings – though the music and the dance did still form a hugely enjoyable part of the evening. But there’s definitely an art to managing the expectations of an audience for a secret event – if you hint at something that isn’t going to happen, you risk leaving people feeling disappointed.

Having logged in to the G.O.O.D. Intranet system (and following the organisation on Facebook and Twitter) we were issued with a Notice of Transfer, which detailed all the preparations we had to make for the event. The specifics differed for each person, but everyone was asked to dress up, and to prepare business cards and an ID badge. We were also asked to connect to other employees via the intranet, each connection increasing your ‘rank’ in the organisation.

Again, there’s a trick to getting that sort of thing right – on the one hand, there’s a definite sense that the more effort you put in beforehand, the more fun you have when you get there. But on the other hand, there’s a vague feeling that some of it is just fluff, and that your efforts aren’t fully recognised on the night, and that feels like a shame and a missed opportunity.

So, the event itself. We don’t want to tell you too much. But it was certainly great fun.

It was less of a movie screening, more of a site-specific interactive theatre event. The movie is screened in part, but we decided not to sit down and watch it – there was too much other interesting stuff to be doing. One of us hadn’t seen the movie before, and the other had, and it definitely felt like familiarity with the movie added a huge amount to the experience, but that it wasn’t absolutely essential.

The location is on the outskirts of town, but not beyond the bounds of an Oyster card. The set building within the space is really extensive, including bars, a restaurant, interactive technology, dance performances, installations and more. Some of it is really slick, but other parts are enjoyably lo-fi.

Upon arrival, audience members are sent to various different entrances. So if you go as a group, you’re likely to be separated from the start – though you can meet up again once you’re inside.

Following on from the online stuff, the plot of the evening is that you’re a new employee on your first day at a new company. There’s a lot of interaction with the actors, all of whom manage to pull you in to their narrative without making you feel awkward or patronised. They give you small nudges as to where you might head next within the space, gently giving shape to your overall experience.

Because you’re free to roam, everyone has a slightly different experience of the evening. The more you explore, the more fun you have. There were a few shared moments when everyone in the building was doing the same thing, and there’s a very clear climax to the event too.

All in all, it’s a great night out. Just don’t go along expecting to sit down quietly and watch a movie.

Ministry of Stories at No.10

How excellent is this?

Last week a group of young writers from the Ministry of Stories took over the state dining room at 10 Downing Street, hosting a ‘creative cabinet meeting’. They helped the assembled guests to invent their own Ministerial positions such as Minister for Stunts; Minister for Laughter; and even a Minister for 90s R&B.

The writers all attend after school writing clubs at the Ministry of Stories, and the event was a chance for the Ministry to celebrate two years of helping local children with writing and creativity.

We created the red Ministerial box for the event, as well as a short booklet detailing the Ministry’s story so far.

Ministry of Stories co-founder, Nick Hornby, said, “We were delighted to be invited back to No.10 after the reception hosted by the Prime Minister to mark the launch of the Ministry of Stories in November 2010. Since then, MoS has gone from strength to strength, working with over 2,000 children a year and engaging a huge number of volunteers, teachers, parents, writers and other artists in its work. It’s the quality of this work, combined with the organisation’s ambitious creative ideas and plans for the future which we hope will inspire people to support the Ministry in becoming a permanent fixture in east London.”

Brilliant. If you’d like to help the Ministry yourself, why not get involved?

Photos © Tom Oldham

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis

Sebastião Salgado’s incredible new show, Genesis, opened recently at the Natural History Museum, and we went along over the weekend to take a look.

The exhibition is the result of eight years work, during which Salgado travelled the globe, seeking out examples of the unspoiled and the untouched – ‘my wish was to do a homage to the planet’. His travels, which began on the Galápagos Islands, took him through over thirty countries, from the arctic to the antarctic, from desert to jungle. Not bad for a man approaching his 70th birthday.

Salgado has previously done two major photographic projects – Workers (1993) which looked at manual labourers across the planet, and Migrations (2000) which studied the movements of peoples, driven by disaster, hunger, war and other pressures. With Genesis, his focus is much more on nature – landscapes and animals. People aren’t entirely absent though – he visited a variety of indigenous tribes, including the Omo Valley tribes in Ethiopia, the Zo’é in Brazil, and the Nenets of Siberia.

The exhibition at the Natural History Museum is the global premiere for the project (though individual stories from it have been serialised over the past eight years in magazines around the world), and the decision to hold it there adds a particular, and necessary, accent to the work.

In seeking to present the world in an untouched state (you’d be hard pressed to date any of these pictures to a particular century, let alone decade), Salgado is obviously hoping to show where we’ve come from, and how much we risk to lose. Framing the exhibition within the Natural History Museum helps to make this explicit in a way which it wouldn’t if the show was hosted in a more traditional gallery space.

Salgado is sometimes criticised for making his images too beautiful – that as a documentary photographer, he gives us too much art. But that seems to suggest that an image that communicates something powerful, that tells a particular story, can’t also be beautiful.

And this is a show that is wondrously beautiful. Shot after shot (and there are two hundred or so of them here) is breathtakingly stunning.

These thumbnails don’t even begin to do justice to the prints themselves – so make sure you get along to the exhibition if you can. (It will be travelling the globe in the coming years if you’re not in London.You can find the itinerary here.)

There is a book of course, published by Taschen.

And being Taschen, it’s also available in their oversized Sumo format as a two-volume limited edition, which comes with its own wooden stand designed by Tadao Ando. Here’s a shot of Salgado having a flip through a copy:

And if it feels like there’s a slight discrepancy between publishing a 704pp hardback book with a spread of almost a metre and being concerned for the world’s untouched spaces?

Well then it’s perhaps good to know that Salgado and his wife Lélia (curator of the Genesis show) have worked for two decades on the restoration of part of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, hoping to plant a million and a half trees before they’re done.

Designs of the Year 2013

We nipped along to the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year show last weekend.

Self-styled as “the Oscars of the design world”, it’s a curious beast of a show, pulling together “the most innovative and imaginative designs from around the world, over the past year, spanning seven categories: Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Transport and Product”, with a view to crowning a single design as the best of the best.

Which means that you get a skyscraper (Renzo Piano’s Shard) being pitted against a social-media printing gizmo (Berg’s Little Printer).

There’s a lot of great stuff on show, but it was the projects that are demonstrably making people’s lives better that really caught our eye – and the rest of the designs rather suffered when compared against them.

We really loved the Little Sun designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson (the chap who installed the sun in the Tate’s Turbine Hall with The Weather Project) and and engineer Frederik Ottesen. It’s a low-cost solar powered LED lamp that gives up to five hours of light when fully charged. It’s designed to provide a practical, safe and efficient source of light for people living in rural communities off the electricity grid, helping them to work, study or cook at night.

It can be worn, hung or attached to walls, and is much safer and healthier than the kerosene lamp alternative.

And, even more brilliantly, folk in areas of the world with ready supplies of electricity (that’s you, dear reader) can buy them at full price, helping to make it available in off-grid communities at much lower prices.

Go shop.

Also helping kids in the developing world to read are the Child ViSion Glasses from the Centre for Vision in the Developing World, designed by the gents at Goodwin Hartshorn.

Designed to improve the eyesight of kids aged 12-18 (or possibly to create a Wally Olins clone army) these groovy self-adjustable specs use fluid-filled lens technology: a silicone oil is injected into the space between two membranes to adjust the prescription until it’s right for the user (the design is based on something similar for adults, the Adspecs, also developed by the CVDW).

The package includes a simple eye test, and the lenses can be adjusted by any adult. At this stage they’re still undergoing clinical trials, but heck, what a great idea.

Another stunning idea came from the folks at independent non-profit ColaLife, who have developed a novel way of getting life-saving medicines to people in rural areas of Africa – by hitching a ride with Coke.

They realised that soft-drinks giant Coca-Cola has an incredible distribution network: you can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in the developing world – but that in those same places 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple, preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea.

ColaLife decided to piggyback on top of Coca-Cola’s distribution network, and developed the Aidpod, a package which can slot into the empty spaces left between soft drinks bottles when they’re stacked in a crate. The pods are designed to carry ‘social products’ – oral rehydration salts, high-dose vitamin A, water purification tablets – to save children’s lives. By using an already established network, medicines can reach communities for little or no cost.

The Kit Yamoyo, nominated for an award, is an Anti-diarrhoea pack which they’re trialling in Zambia at the moment. The original concept was by Simon & Jane Berry (founders of Colalife), with design by Tim Llewellyn for PI Global.

Read more about it all here.

Meanwhile, over in the Architecture category, we loved the renovation of Tour Bois le Prêtre: a 17 storey tower block, on the edge of the 17th Arrondisement in Paris, that was being threatened with demolition.

In 2005 a competition was organised by Paris Habitat, the Paris Office for Public Housing, to renovate the building. Lacaton & Vassal studio put together a retrofitting scheme for the block, using prefabricated balconies, which cost £15 million, around half of the projected demolition and rebuilding cost; and which also meant minimal disruption for the inhabitants of the block.

A pioneering example of how renovated buildings can create great housing. Be good to see some more of that sort of thing going on in the UK. (Read more about the project in this New York Times article.)

Over in the Graphics category, it was the new Australian cigarette packs that caught our eye.

Thanks to the Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, as of 1 December 2012, all cigarettes sold there have to be sold in plain packaging. So there’s no branding to speak of, just warnings, graphic images of the dangers of smoking, and product names.

As the act states, this was done to: “(a)  reduce the appeal of tobacco products to consumers, (b)  increase the effectiveness of health warnings on the retail packaging of tobacco products, (c)  reduce the ability of the retail packaging of tobacco products to mislead consumers about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products.”

It’s design doing the exact opposite of what it normally does. It’s ugly, unpleasant, and uncomfortable, and it’s intentionally trying to dissuade you from making a purchase. The packaging colour has been specified as Pantone 488C, after research by the Australian Department for Health and Ageing discovered it to be the least attractive colour for packaging.

Poor old 488C.

It’s not beautiful, but it may well be very effective.

Although.

It did remind us of the Death Cigarettes brand from the 90s, which was equally up front about the dangers of smoking.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Australian packs pick up a similar cachet amongst rebellious youth…

Other than those projects, the Zumbtobel Annual Report, by Brixton design studio Brighten the Corners and Anish Kapoor, is a real stunner, set in two parts, with one part consisting solely of a series of full-bleed chromatic spreads (you really need to have a copy in your hands to experience it properly).

And the Ralph Ellison series of book covers by Cardon Webb are also all kinds of lovely.

And of course, Thomas Heatherwick Studio’s lyrical Olympic Cauldron for the London 2012 is nominated too, and deservedly so. It was the design highpoint of the Olympics, and there was a real sense of awe watching it open and close during the ceremonies.

All in all it’s a fascinating show – but we definitely came away with the feeling that design is at its best when it’s directly helping make the world a better place.

And we were also struck by this bit of text from the permanent collection on the floor above the Designs of the Year show:

“The most successful designs are those that endure and continue to be relevant many years after they are first introduced. These are the icons that define the landscape of design. The bicycle, the ball-point pen and Anglepoise lamp are all examples, where the basic form has remained the same for decades.”

It’ll be really interesting to see if which, if any, of this year’s crop of designs endure for many years to come.

The Story 2013

Last Friday we were lucky enough to go along to The Story 2013 – a rather wonderful little one-day conference about stories and storytelling organised by Matt Locke. The Ministry of Stories were doing a short presentation about their work, and a portion of the proceeds from the ticket sales went to the Ministry too.

Matt asked us to create a small gift to give away to all the delegates on behalf of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, so we put together these pouches of Witches’ Brews:

“Featuring some of the very rarest ingredients, our Witches’ Brews deliver perfect potions every time. This classic blend includes Scale of Dragon, Wool of Bat, and Scraping of Lipstick; wonderfully enhanced with Roasted Toenails, Plucked Fairy Wings, and of course, Blackberry Leaves. For each brew, simply steep one bag in a cup of boiling water for about 5 minutes, while chanting the appropriate spell or incantation.”

The back of the packs featured the running order of the event:

(We’ll be producing the Witches’ Brews as a product for Hoxton Street Monster Supplies in the near future, so stay tuned.)

The conference itself was really fascinating, with many highlights.

It opened with the wonderful Edwyn Collins discussing his life after suffering a devastating stroke in 2005. He was chatting with director Ed Lovelace, who is putting together a documentary In your voice, in your heart, about Collins’ journey back after the stroke.

A bit later, Laura Dockrill exploded onto the stage to talk about her new book Darcy Burdock. Laura’s fantastic, and her reading from the book was electrifying.

After lunch, animator Ben Boucquelet spoke about the genesis of his totally brilliant TV show The Amazing World of Gumball, which airs on Cartoon Network. Based around a kid called Gumball Watterson (is that a nod to Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes?), and his family and friends, it’s a glorious mish-mash of animation styles, all anchored in really brilliant storytelling – heartfelt without collapsing into sentimentality.

“The Wattersons are a totally normal family. Dad is a big pink rabbit who stays at home while Mom works at the Rainbow factory. Their kids are pretty standard too: there’s Gumball, a blue cat with a giant head. Anais, a four-year-old genius bunny rabbit and Darwin, a pet goldfish who became part of the family when he sprouted legs.”

Around them live a host neighbours and schoolfriends, who include Anton, a crumbly piece of toast; Alan the balloon who’s in a doomed relationship with Carmen the cactus; Tina the T-Rex, who’s the school bully; and Banana Joe, the happy fool. Here are a couple of short clips:

If you’ve more time though, check out this episode, where Gumball’s dad gets a job, a situation which threatens the very existence of the universe:

Quite wonderful.

A bit later we were treated to more animated brilliance by Mikey Please, with his Bafta-winning short film, The Eagleman Stag:

Just brilliant.

Huge thanks to Matt for pulling together such a brilliant set of speakers. Already looking forward to next year.

Fuse Wire

We nipped over to Holborn this weekend for the latest Ephemera Fair. Lots of lovely stuff as always.

(Full size pics over at Alistair’s Ephemera Flickr set)

The next fair, one of the big ones, is perfectly timed for buying bits and bobs for Christmas, on Sunday 2 December, at the Holiday Inn, Coram Street, London WC1.

See you there.

Letterpress: something to say

Mid-October already? Ay caramba. How did that happen? The days, weeks, and months are just flying past…

Anyhoo, the folks at the wonderful St Bride Library have been in touch to flag up their upcoming event Letterpress: Something to say.

It’s a one-day conference “exploring letterpress as a means for delivering real content, be that a set of sharply thought-through design intentions; a re-imagining of the possibilities of the inky process itself; an analogue springboard to new digital visuals and environments; or a reconnection with the power of a simple press to communicate ideas.”

Confirmed speakers include: Anthony Burrill, Catherine Dixon, Ian Gabb (RCA), Thomas Gravemaker, Dylan Kendle (Tomato), Peter Nencini, and L’automatica (Barcelona).

The conference is on Friday 9 November, from 10am until 6pm. Tickets here.

Olym-pics

That was pretty blooming brilliant wasn’t it? Bring on the Paralympics.

(All images © Alistair Hall, full set here.)