Archived posts: Graphics

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.

Alan Kitching: A life in Letterpress


The good people at Laurence King recently sent over a copy of their fantastic new monograph, Alan Kitching—A Life in Letterpress. It’s quite brilliant.

You will have seen Alan’s work before, even if you’re not a graphic designer. He’s designed book covers, stamps, magazine covers, protest signs, theatre posters, wine labels and more. All this is done using the traditional letterpress tools – movable metal type, large woodblock letters, ink, paper and a press. His work is immediately recognisable: bold, witty, elegant, colourful and thoughtful, often with a painterly use of ink.

Here are a few of his wonderful Broadsides, the large format typographic prints he has created throughout his career. This is number 1, from 1988, designed to be cut up into individual items of stationery (letterhead, compliments slip, label etc.).


This one is number 5, from 1992. A typographic map, it represents the streets, businesses, pubs and history of Clerkenwell. It’s a beautiful and beautifully considered piece of work.


‘Printing in London: 1476-1995’ (below) was commissioned by Heidelberg for their magazine High Quality, and was reprinted in a folder as Broadside number 8. A visual history of printing in London, it features printers, publishers, art schools and type foundries.


In 2003 Alan produced a dual-purpose petition and poster for The Guardian, ‘Why Iraq? Why Now?’. Published in the newspaper, it was designed to be cut out and pasted onto banners by people who met in London for the anti-war rally on 15 February of that year. (On the day, David Gentleman’s NO poster for the Stop the War Coalition was more visible – though that may partly have been because it was so readily available at the event.)


‘Taxi!’ (below) was commissioned for the London Poster Project, part of the 2009 London Design Festival:


The new book details the entirety of Alan’s career so far, from his beginnings as an apprentice compositor at 15, through his work with Anthony Froshaug, Derek Birdsall and others, to his time running the Typography Workshop in Kennington.

It’s especially wonderful to discover Alan’s early, less familiar work, particularly that created while working with Froshaug at Watford College of Technology.

Here are a couple of great experimental prints from the late 1960s using just metal furniture (normally used for spacing out type).



Here are a few spreads from the book:







Designed by Simon Esterson and Jon Kielty, and written by John L. Walters, three editions of the book are available. The book edition (£40) won’t be available until March 2017, but in the meantime, the Special Edition (£75) is available, and more than worth the cost. It features a three-piece binding with greyboard covers.



Rather wonderfully, that’s the same style of binding as was used for the book Celia Sings, which celebrated the life of Alan’s late wife, Celia Stothard (and which was designed by the same team):


There’s also a boxed Collector’s Edition (£200), with the same binding, which includes a hand printed letterpress signed print, numbered and wrapped round the book to form a jacket. That’s only available in a limited edition of 200.


You can actually get your hands on a copy of the book edition before March. In tandem with the publication of the book, a major retrospective of Alan’s work is touring around the UK, and a few copies of the book will be on sale at each show. We caught the exhibition at the recent Pick Me Up illustration show at Somerset House, and it was an absolute treat to see so much incredible work. Alan was even on hand to run printing workshops and discuss his work (that’s him in the red jumper below, and peering through the doorway).

Alan Kitching Pick Me Up

From 3 June to 20 August the retrospective will be on show at The Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk. After that it moves to The Lighthouse in Glasgow, from 1 November through to February 2017. More dates are promised. We can’t recommend it enough, so if you get the chance do make the trip.

This short film, created to publicise the book, shows Alan at work, discussing various moments during his career:

Fantastic stuff.

A Smile in the Mind


We nipped over to The Partners on Wednesday evening for the launch of the revamped A Smile in the Mind – Witty thinking in graphic design.

The book was originally published in 1996 (that’s our grubby copy on the left up above, which we picked up around 1999), and presented a wealth of the sort of graphic design that deals with ideas, play and wit. When we were at college, it was considered a key text for ideas-based design.

With a fresh neon pink coat, the new version has been extensively revised and updated, with over 1,000 examples of witty logos, book covers, posters, illustrations, packaging and photography – about 50% of it new material. And we’re ridiculously chuffed to have our work for Hoxton Street Monster Supplies included in amongst that.

hsms_0002_HSMS window

hsms_0005_HSMS license

hsms_0003_HSMS door signs

hsms_0022_Creeping Dread

hsms_0015_Vague Sense of Unease

hsms_0025_Fang Floss

We thought we’d show a few more pieces from the book here. Up first, a cover for Nabakov’s Lolita, by the offensively talented Jamie Keenan. Quite possibly our favourite bit of graphic design from the last twenty years.


Sticking with book covers, our studio partner David Pearson’s wonderful cover for Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, from the Penguin Great Ideas series, is rather brilliant too – with the spine of the book duplicated repeatedly across the front cover.


This logo for The Guild of Food Writers by 300 Million is a perfect example of graphic wit and economy:


Sticking with food, this pack by Design Bridge for Tiger Nuts is, well, the nuts.


There’s a good section at the back of the book where various design folk talk through how they came up with an idea, including this corker of a poster by Arnold Schwartzman for the Los Angeles Olympics:



A Smile in the Mind is a fantastic compendium of witty thinking, and a real credit to both Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart who put together the original edition, and Greg Quinton and Nick Asbury who put together the new edition.

You can see a further selection of work from the book (including our stuff) over at Creative Review.

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.






British Pathé


So we’ve just lost a few hours browsing through the fantastic British Pathé archive on YouTube. We thought we’d share a few highlights here.

Up above, a short film from 1967 showcasing the new British road signage system. Check out how a handy guide helps drivers to decipher the new signs.

The film below shows how a Mr Batley can produce portraits on a Monotype caster.



The next film, Wallpaper, is brilliant, showing how wallpaper is printed – all set to a swinging soundtrack that lets you know this is just about the most fun a human being can have.



And how about this one – showcasing how Ordnance Survey maps are produced?



Or, say, when you’re enjoying your favourite magazine, do you ever wonder what went into its making?



This short film shows how neon lettering is made by remarkably smartly-dressed men in Acton:



Here are a couple of chaps engraving postage stamps:



Finally, meet Mr Leonard Ware, the rubber man:



Find more over at the Pathé channel.

British Hardware Federation


We stumbled across this little paper bag the other day, and crikey it’s peculiar.

It features branding for the British Hardware Federation, the national trade association for independent hardware and DIY retailers in the UK. We’re not quite sure when this particular bag dates from, but we’d guess it’s the early 1970s. (We’ve been in touch with the BHF to ask them if they know anything about the branding, but they’ve not got back to us with any answers yet.)

So that symbol. That’s the male gender symbol right?*

So, hum, was the British Hardware Federation really suggesting, as James Brown would have it, that DIY is a ‘man’s man’s man’s world’? Because that seems kinda outrageous, even in the 70s.


The symbol itself, the circle with an arrow pointing outwards at an angle, and its equivalent female symbol, the circle with a cross below it, have an interesting history.

Their use as markers of gender dates back to the work of Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus, in his dissertation Plantae Hybridae (1751), where he used them for male and female parents of hybrid plants.

But Linnaeus didn’t invent the symbols, he just appropriated them from the scientific study of alchemy, where the male symbol was originally used to refer to the metal iron, and the female symbol to the metal copper. In fact he’d previously used them as such in his 1735 piece, System Naturae.

The symbols’ use in alchemy derived from a shorthand for the names of the planets, each of which was associated with a metal. Iron (a hard red metal used to make weapons) was associated with Mars (big red planet, god of war); and copper (a soft metal that turns green) was associated with Venus (goddess of love). Read all about that over on this Today I Found Out article.

Which is all well and good, but doesn’t perhaps explain why the male gender symbol was used to brand a DIY trade body. It’s possible it was something to do with iron, but it feels like most people would have connected the symbol with maleness way before they thought about a hard red metal.

Of course, there’s a much more contemporary instance of the symbol being used as a key part of a much larger brand identity…


Volvo refer to their mark as ‘the iron mark’, so they’re definitely anchoring (sorry) the symbol with that meaning. As opposed to subtly suggesting that cars are just for men.

*If anyone knows any more about the British Hardware Federation identity, get in touch. It’s always possible that the symbol refers to something very DIY specific. We’d love to know.

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.

(Graphic) Designer Watches


So, we were at one of the events at the London Design Festival last month, and bumped into a couple of design colleagues. We noticed that all three of us were sporting the same type of watch – the INSTRMNT 01 (above). This made us realise that, although we like to think we’re all special unique unicorns with our own free will, we’re actually just brainless automatons who can’t help but be sucked in by the same things.

But, it did get us wondering: which watches are most popular amongst the design community?

The INSTRMNT watches are made by a small team in Glasgow, and they have a stripped back simplicity that (evidently) appeals to graphic designers. They’re the polar opposite of bling, and adhere closely to Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design, particularly ‘Good design is as little design as possible’.

For a very similar feel, you don’t have to go much further than Uniform Wares, who started up in London in 2009, and seem to be a particular favourite of architects:


Of course, you could just go direct to source, with a Braun watch:


Clean, simple, functional.

Another favourite we’ve spotted adorning the wrists of more than a couple of designers is the Max Bill by Junghans:


Max Bill was a Swiss designer, type designer, architect, painter and sculptor (polymath much?) who studied at the Bauhaus under Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Originally made at the beginning of the 1960s, the watches and clocks he designed for Junghans have a really refined elegance.

For something a little chunkier, but still iconically Swiss, perhaps the Mondaine Official Swiss Railways Watch?


These are based on the patented design of the Swiss railway clock, designed in 1944 by Hans Hilfiker, an employee of the Federal Swiss Railways. The watches were first produced in 1986, and quickly became a classic. They’re sort of the equivalent of big round black framed glasses.

And if you’re discussing Swiss classics, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid mentioning Helvetica. Last year Mondaine produced their Helvetica No. 1 watch:


Naturally they come in light, regular and bold. And as a little additional quirk, the lugs are based on the Helvetica numeral ‘1’. See what they did there? Now, we’re more than happy to see some elegant typography on a watch face… but perhaps calling the watch Helvetica, and sticking the word Helvetica on the face is slightly overcooking it?

Of course, designers are also historically more than a little partial to Apple products, so perhaps the Apple Watch should be included in this list?


We’ve seen a few of them in the wild though, and still don’t really understand what they’re actually for. Where the iPhone felt like a complete game changer when it launched, turning an existing industry on its head, the Apple Watch feels like a bit of a gimmick.

So, which watch ticks the right box for you (if you’ll pardon the pun)? Any of the above? Or something else entirely?

UPDATE (21 October 2015)
We couldn’t let this post stand without including the newly launched Sekford Type 1A watches, which feature bespoke lettering and numbers drawn by Commercial Type. They’re not cheap, by my they’re beautiful.


Browse through the comments below for watch links from other readers.

Also, it’s interesting note how popular the time around ten past ten is for setting the watches to when photographing them. Evidently a watch and clock photographic tradition.

The 2015 D&AD Annual cover


I’m lucky enough to share studio space with two rather talented designers: David Pearson and Paul Finn. We work together from time to time, and our most recent collaboration launched last night: a series of covers for the 2015 D&AD Annual.

D&AD is a ‘global creative design and advertising association’, and the D&AD Annual collects together the best work entered for its yearly awards scheme. Dave was commissioned by GBH’s Mark Bonner, this year’s D&AD President, to create the cover for the Annual.

Dave, Paul and I had been discussing the brief in the studio, chewing over possible solutions. This happens a fair bit, even though we each run our own practices – it’s one of the many benefits of sharing space together. We’d been talking about the fact that when you boil D&AD down to its essence, it’s all about the awards that they give out each year. They come in the form of oversized pencils, and two new ones have been introduced this year: the Wood Pencil and the Graphite Pencil.


The Wood, Graphite and Yellow Pencils roughly equate to bronze, silver and gold awards. The White Pencil is for Yellow Pencil-worthy work that also affects ‘real and positive change in the world through creative thinking’. And the Black Pencil is for work that is ‘ground-breaking in its field’ – only a handful of them are awarded each year, if any.

With the introduction of the full family of five Pencils it felt like the right time to put them front and centre on the cover.

Dave had been playing with a delicious GF Smith wood-effect stock, Woodside Garden Pine, that I’d used for one of my postcards for Benwells, and was looking at ways to incorporate it on the cover. I suggested that it would look great used across the whole cover, and had fished out a D&AD Pencil that I had in one of the drawers next to my desk. Dave took it and stood it on a sheet of the Woodside, and then Paul laid it flat, and we had one of those lovely moments where you all just go ‘Ah! That’s it!’.

Very generously, Dave suggested we work together and make it a collaborative design. We decided on a series of five covers, each one featuring one of the awards at actual size, shown front and back. Clean and simple.






As the project progressed, we tried out a lot of different options, adding in copy, logos and spine text in various shapes and sizes. All along though, we were basically trying to hang on to the simplicity of that initial moment.

This is how the back cover of the Yellow Pencil version looks:


Of course, the idea still had to be turned into actual printed covers. The Woodside stock has a coating on it that can make some inks or foils react in unexpected ways – at one point the covers were all working except the black one, on which you could scratch the ink off with your fingernail. Fortunately for us, D&AD have a fantastic production manager, Martin Lee, who was exceptional at working out the best way to realise the idea. He provided multiple print tests and proofs until they were exactly right.

We’re dead chuffed with the results.

You can buy the D&AD Annual here, and read an interview with Dave about its creation over on It’s Nice That.

Anthony Burrill + Harvey Lloyd


Well now, this is all kinds of lovely.

The good folks at Harvey Lloyd Screen Print in East Sussex have just sent us this promotional booklet, showcasing their services. Designed by Anthony Burrill (who has his own work printed by the team there), it’s an absolute cracker. 14 pages of stunning printing and design on a range of heavyweight substrates (greyboard, acrylic, die-cut 2000 micron Cairn Eco Kraft and more). It even smells fantastic – that stark industrial smell you only get from screenprinting.





They also sent us a couple of promotional flyers – one on a slab of 10mm birch faced plywood, the other on a slab of 10mm thick cork, each of them printed with two flouros and white and black to the front, black only to the reverse.



Fantastic stuff – it’s made us hungry to get busy with a squeegee again.

See more of their work over on Instagram.