Archived posts: Events

Olivetti – Beyond form and function


We nipped over to the ICA at the end of last week to catch their exhibition, Olivetti – Beyond Form and Function, showcasing the spatial and graphic design of typewriter manufacturer Olivetti during the post-war era.




The show featured a mix of advertising posters, magazine adverts, and ephemera from Olivetti, courtesy of the Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti. Many were designed by Giovanni Pintori, who worked in-house with Olivetti for over 30 years, eventually becoming the company’s Art Director.

It was interesting to see how photographs of the typewriters were kept quite small, if shown at all, letting simple abstracted graphics to do most of the work instead.


(You might recognise the image above from some adverts for The Guardian by Weiden + Kennedy back in 2007. This post from Simon I’Anson about the similarity between those ads sent us off to this fantastic Flickr album of graphic design work done for Olivetti.)

The show also featured some actual typewriters, including the beautiful lightweight and portable Lettera 22. We have one in the studio, and love it:



Here’s what the text from that looks like once it’s typed out:


We were wondering who designed letters themselves. Courier, the standard typewriter typeface, wasn’t designed until 1955, and the Lettera 22 dates from 1949. We’re guessing that quite a few similar typefaces were around at the time – but were wondering where the first one came from (do get in touch if you know). As you can see from the sample above, the characters are monospaced, so they each take up the same amount of space, allowing the creation of tabular information to be done really simply. (Read more about typewriter typefaces over on this Typographica page.)

The first commercially successful typewriter was the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer, also known as the Remington No.1, which went on sale in 1874. It introduced the first QWERTY keyboard, which lingers on today, despite attempts to update it.

However the Remington was slightly limited because you couldn’t see what you were typing while you typed, and it only had uppercase letters.


Even on the lowercase and uppercase typewriters, some characters were still absent. If you look at the keyboard on our Lettera 22 above, you’ll see there’s no numeral 1, no exclamation mark, a dollar symbol but no cent symbol, and no maths symbols (addition, multiplication, division, equals).

Using a typewriter necessitated some clever tricks – here are just a few:


The dumb quotes we mention there are a massive bugbear of ours. They still linger on modern computer keyboards, when they were only created as a space saving device on typewriters. They should have disappeared years ago. (Read more about that on this old post about dumb quotes.)

If you’re looking for more Olivetti Lettera goodness, check out this Flickr album from Ed Cornish,  showcasing the machine’s instruction manual.


Lovely stuff.

Designology at the London Transport Museum


We nipped along to the London Transport Museum recently to catch their brand new show, Designology.

The exhibition is part of their London by Design Season, celebrating 150 years of design heritage. As part of this, they’ve already installed a new permanent gallery, London by Design, within the museum. This temporary show adds to that, displaying a selection of bits and bobs that illustrate how the design process works within various strands of London’s transport network.


It’s a slightly cramped show, and the display can feel a little home-made at times, but there are some real gems on display.

Our favourite was the set of archival material from when the London Underground’s iconic Johnston typeface was updated and turned into New Johnston by Eiichi Kono at Banks & Miles. (This provides the perfect complement to the Johnston exhibition currently on at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.)

It was partly some indecisive crotches that prompted the renovation. Here’s typographer Watler Tracy RDI (at the time, recently retired, but who had worked on some Johnston revisions in the mid ’70s) to explain:



At the top of this post you can see a page of Eiichi’s preparation for a presentation to London Transport in 1980. It shows the original range of Johnston typefaces. The note at the very top reads: ‘There are six variations but only medium and bold romans are available for LT’s general printed publicity.’ The faces are: Johnston Bold, Medium, Light, Bold Condensed, Medium Condensed and Medium Italic. Here are some of Eiichi’s illuminating notes:



Brilliant stuff.

Here’s how New Johnston is specified in the current Tfl Design Standards:



You can read more about the design of New Johnston in this fascinating piece by Eiichi for the Edward Johnston Foundation. And Eiichi will be giving a talk about New Johnston at the museum on Tuesday 7 June.

Also on show at the exhibition, you can see David Gentleman’s original wood blocks for his stunning murals on the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross.


Here’s how the print from that block looks:


And a poster showing how the artwork appears on the platforms (the brown lines on the artwork represent benches):


And of course, there is a vast array of lovely signs, photographs and ephemera:




There’s also a fantastic short film showing how bus destination blinds are manufactured… but you’ll have to visit the show to see that!


Related posts:

London Transport Museum Acton Depot

Poster Art 150

Interrobang: an international showcase of letterpress print


The lovely people at St Jude’s Prints have just sent us the latest edition of their Random Spectacular journal, Interrobang, and it’s a corker.

It’s been published in collaboration with Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, which is our new favourite place in the whole world.

The Sussex village of Ditchling was the home of letter-cutter Eric Gill (he’s the chap who designed Gill Sans) and calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used by London Underground). The museum has collected together works from them, and from the artists and craftspeople who gathered around them.

We took a wander down that way a month or so ago. It made for a fantastic day out, starting with a stroll along the South Downs.


Here’s a sign post set, of course, in Gill Sans.


And an old National Trust sign, set in Albertus.


On the way from the Downs to the museum, you pass the home where Edward Johnston used to work and live. (We believe the security light is a more recent addition.)


The museum’s identity was designed by Phil Baines. And boy it looks great on a sunny spring day. Loving that arrow.


The current main exhibition at the museum is a history of the development of the Johnston typeface, and that alone makes it worth a visit. Just look at this lower case qu ligature. And the alternate versions of the g!



And check out this lovely set of Ws:



If you do one thing this year, go to Ditchling. Twice.

Anyway, we digress.

As part of their brilliant Village of Type events which run throughout May, the museum has put together Interrobang – an international showcase of letterpress print. The exhibition is an open submission, with pieces selected by a panel of typographers and designers.

The journal, designed by Kenneth Gray, and put together by St Jude’s in tandem with the show, features a selection of fantastic articles about the current state of letterpress printing, as well as all the work from the show.

It opens with Phil Baines writing about Hilary Pepler, who set up the local St Dominic’s Press in 1919.


Then there’s an insightful article by David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis of The Counter Press about the state of letterpress. They rightly point out that letterpress printing is having a moment, with myriad new small presses joining the old hands who’ve been doing it for years. But they worry about whether letterpress printing is being valued purely for its old-world values: ‘it seems that more often than not, people struggle to leave the nostalgia and vintage charm of the aesthetic in the past.’ They warn of the danger of ‘pastiche and unimaginative reproduction’.

Coming from anyone else, this might sound like they’re just stirring the pot. But they’re one of the most exciting design teams working with letterpress at the moment. They specialise in what they call ‘traditional techniques with modern design thinking’. Here’s the cover of their recent publication Extra Condensed.


It is beautiful. And we do care.

This theme continues in Patrick Baglee’s wonderful interview with Alan Kitching: ‘He is a designer that is surrounded by and works with letterpress type and letterpress technology. But it is the ideas and deeper meaning that step forward… This sense of expressiveness, of freedom and joy is still what marks Kitching’s work out from much of what passes for letterpress – where it is the means of production that people believe we ought to care about – rather than the final idea as evidence of artistry, craft and simple, clear thinking.’

Here’s Kitching’s recent print for Monotype commemorating Paul Rand:


Later on in the journal, there’s an article about Adams of Rye, the printshop where Anthony Burrill creates his posters, including this recent one for the museum:


Another piece looks at the collaboration between Tilley Printing and poet Nick Alexander, creating posters which are flyposted in the local Tinsmith’s Alley in Ledbury, Herefordshire.


The bulk of the journal though is a showcase of the prints from the show. Here are just a few of those:

From Nicole Arnett Phillips in Brisbane, an analogue bitmap Q: ‘My intention with this series is to explore the space between analogue and digital type design and lettering. Each print translates form between analogue and digital instances. The letterforms start as pencil outlines. I then use physical type – either the face or the feet – (face being right way up type side of the sort, and feet being upside down backside of the physical piece of type) to typeset an analogue bitmap inside the pencil outlines.’


From BunkerType in Barcelona, a print (#6) from their ongoing project, The New Call, based on the work of Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman:


Artist Ruth Kirkby shows one of ‘a series of prints to represent the Western-imposed state borders and the effects they have had on the Middle East. The text in the prints is taken from recent Al Jazeera articles about the areas affected by the enforced borders.’


From New North Press in London, comes a print from their ‘A23D’ 3D-printed letterpress font, designed by A2-Type, fusing old and new technologies.


One Strong Arm in Dublin submitted a print featuring a quote from Rudolf Koch, but we couldn’t find a picture of it, so here’s one of their other pieces, with a quote from Roddy Doyle.


Tom Pigeon, the studio of Pete and Kirsty Thomas, show one of their ‘Cinematype’ prints. ‘Cinematype is an original sans-serif, geometric typeface designed by us and inspired by the typography of early 20th Century film. We’ve worked with British printmaker Thomas Mayo to create these exclusive Cinematype letterpress numbers prints.’


The next print is from The Print Project in Shipley. We’re rather in love with their fantastic posters for the gig night Golden Cabinet, printed using metal type and overprinted laser cut abstract shapes:


We’re also quite taken by this print from The Wireless Press in Brighton. It’s based on Parisian graffiti from the 1968 uprising (the text translates as ‘Stop clapping – the show is everywhere’).


All in all, the journal is a wonderful record of a brilliant show, giving a really thorough sense of what is being produced by the best designers and artists working with letterpress print today.

The exhibition is on until 30 May. In the meantime, you can (and should) buy the Interrobang journal from St Jude’s.

60 years of TV commercials


We made our way over to Hixter Bankside yesterday for the annual Clearcast party, for which we’d designed an 8 metre long backdrop.

Clearcast are the clearance service for the TV advertising industry – they review TV commercials at the script stage, checking that they conform to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. That way, before production begins, advertisers can make sure their ads aren’t harmful, misleading or offensive.

Clearcast asked us to create an eye-catching backdrop to celebrate the recent milestone of 60 years of commercial television. We looked through the archives of the most popular TV adverts, and pulled together a selection of the best bits from the scripts. We then created a huge typographic backdrop, designed to fit onto a glass partition in the venue’s main room. (The backdrop was produced by the event organisers, PR Live.)


If you click the image below, it should open up the full artwork.

Here are the ads from which those bits of copy come – nostalgia-fest!

Cinzano – with the fantastic Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins:


Gibbs S.R. Toothpaste – this was the first advert shown on UK television:


Sugar Puffs


Renault Clio






British Telecom


Um Bongo


R Whites Lemonade






Yellow Pages


Birdseye Steakhouse Grills

(Going through those ads made us realise that commercials with great dialogue are few and far between these days. We have a feeling that might be because ads are made to work in many different countries now, so dialogue (except in voice-over) is far less common. Or perhaps witty copywriting is just out of fashion? Seems a shame.)

There was also a photo-booth at the party, run by the good chaps from Lots of Little Ideas, and we designed a series of prop-cards for that, featuring taglines from some old adverts – all set with the correct typographic styling.






Wynkyn de Worde Society


Founded in 1957, the Wynkyn de Worde Society is ‘dedicated to excellence in all forms of printing’. It’s a rather fantastic society which gets together regularly to eat, drink, talk about design and printing, and drink some more. The membership is made up of talented and frankly fascinating folk from right across the graphic arts spectrum – printers, graphic designers, calligraphers, publishers, typographers – all sorts. Each year they ask a different member to be their Honorary Designer, and this year they asked Alistair, creative director of We Made This, to take on that role.

The society holds a series of wonderful lunchtime and evening events across the year, and one of the Honorary Designer’s jobs is to create the booking forms for those events. Alistair designed each leaflet to respond to the theme of the respective event. We thought we’d share a few of them here.

In March, Daniel Mason gave a wonderful talk about recreating the packaging for Joy Division’s albums. Having found a copy of the original image used to create the Unknown Pleasures cover art, Alistair created a Factory-style booking form. This was printed onto Colorplan Pristine White. Alistair also created a memento for the event.





In July, the Society held its annual Members’ Garden Party. For this Alistair created a botanic pattern based on a Gunnera leaf.




The leaflet was printed onto Colorplan Pistachio with a leaf-like embossed texture.



In September, Professor Lawrence Zeegen gave a fascinating talk about the history of Ladybird Books. For that Alistair created a leaflet that matched the exact size of the Ladybird books, and reworked type from one of the original books to create a text page inside it.





Later this month, Nick Newman will be giving a talk about The Wipers Times, the newspaper written, printed and published by British soldiers in the trenches in the First World War. Alistair carefully replicated the typographic style of the newspaper for the booking leaflet, and reworked some text from the newspaper too, making it specific to the event. (He’s also worked with Matt Mackenzie at Paekakariki Press to recreate a letterpress printed edition of the newspaper – we’ll tell you all about that next month.) The leaflet was printed onto Colorplan Stone.





And finally, for the Christmas party, which is held at the Garrick Club, Alistair created a leaflet that looked like an old theatre playbill, playing with some of the lyrics from the ‘Deck the Halls’ Christmas carol.




If that’s whetted your appetite, take a look at the Wynkyn de Worde Members’ Handbook too.

One Story, Many Endings

The Ministry of Stories recently hosted a conference, Write for a Bright Future, the first gathering of all the projects around the world inspired by Dave Eggers’ and Ninive Clements Calegari’s 826 organisation in the USA.

Over 150 delegates attended from centres all over the world – including Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words in Belfast and Dublin; Story Planet in Toronto; Sydney Story Factory in, well, Sydney; Porto delle Storie in Florence; and from a host of other centres, including of course 826 itself.

One of the many highlights of the conference was getting Dave Eggers, Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle together to be interviewed by three students from the Ministry. Check out the video above – it’s well worth a watch.

Read more about our work for the Ministry here.

Save Norton Folgate

We wandered over to the beautiful St Leonard’s, Shoreditch (as featured in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons) yesterday evening for a fascinating talk by Dan Cruikshank on behalf of The Spitalfields Trust.

The talk was about the threat of development that currently looms over Norton Folgate, a conservation area that forms the heart of Spitalfields, centred on the stunning Elder Street, most of which dates back to the 18th century.

In the evocative surroundings of St Leonard’s, Cruikshank detailed British Land’s plans (on behalf of the freeholder, the City of London Corporation) to redevelop the area, demolishing or gutting many of the historic buildings, leaving just a few facades intact. Behind those facades they’ll create huge office developments, entirely out of keeping with the architectural history of the area, and fundamentally changing its unique character. Watch the video above to get a sense of what Cruikshank had to say.

Incredibly, British Land tried to demolish portions of Elder Street back in the 70s, and were only stopped by the then newly formed Spitalfields Trust, co-founded by Dan Cruikshank.


A little bit of history repeating it seems.

The new proposal is astonishing in its potential to harm one of the most beautiful parts of London. The Spitalfields Trust is determined to stop the proposal though. They have even commissioned an alternative scheme of their own from architect John Burrell at Burrell, Foley, Fischer, which is far better suited to this wonderful area.

Read more over at the excellent Spitalfields Life, and on the Spitalfields Trust site.

Join in the protest over at the Save Norton Folgate Facebook page.

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman

Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman, 1963


The Royal Academy invited us along last week to check out their new show, Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album.

It’s an interesting exhibition, featuring over four hundred shots taken by Hopper between 1961 and 1967. Here’s what he had to say about them when they were exhibited at the Fort Worth Art Centre in Texas in 1970:

“I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one. These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light Tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

The prints produced for that show were rediscovered after Hopper’s death in 2010, and this is the first time they’ve been seen together in the UK. While it’s great to see them in their original form, their size (the majority are 9.5 x 6.5 inch) and the size of the space feel at odds with one another – it’s a peculiar decision on the part of the exhibition designers not to blow any of the images up, even just as backdrops, and leaves the exhibition feeling a little sparse, and without pace. Looking through the images in the accompanying catalogue feels much more engaging and much more intimate.

The photographs themselves are an intriguing mix of social document and aesthetic exploration. It’s not as if Hopper was a groundbreaking or outstandingly talented photographer – but he was mixing in really interesting circles at a really interesting time. Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Marcel Duchamp, Martin Luther King, John Wayne, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, Peter Fonda, Hells Angels, hippies – they were all captured by his lens.



Paul Newman, 1964



Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964



Double Standard, 1961


The exhibition runs until 19 October at the Burlington Gardens section of the Royal Academy.

All images © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. 

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!