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Penguin Random House Learning Journal

Often, when you get a job back from the printer (having laboured over it for hours, days, weeks, and often months), there can be a certain sense of disappointment, with the final result not living up to your by now unjustifiably elevated expectations. That’s not to say that the finished object isn’t worthy of love and pride, just that you can easily have an idealised view of what you hope to have created, a view which reality can never match.

But every now and then, the reverse happens. Despite having those same supposedly unrealistic expectations, the finished object manages to exceed them.

This happened to us with this learning journal we created recently for the Penguin Random House Academy – the in-house training programme for the company’s UK staff.

We were hoping it was going to look great, but once we got it in our hands, we couldn’t help but grin. It just felt right – the cover stock, the text stock, the print process, the finishing – it all came together in one lovely package. (And yup, we know we’re blasting away on our own little trumpet here, but heck, sometimes it’s okay to do that.)

We started out by designing the identity for the Academy, a simple circle. We then carried that circle through as a motif throughout the book.

The book is designed in two separate sections, each of which has its own front cover. Start at one end and it’s an informative guide to all the training and career development possibilities at the company; flip it over and it’s a travel journal, where you can make notes and doodle.

The text pages are printed onto a cream stock using the CMYK process, but with the black swapped for a Pantone grey.

The two halves of the book meet at a spread which reads in both directions, letting you know that it’s time to flip the book:

The covers are 2000 micron greyboard, foil-blocked in white.

The travel journal pages are a mix of blank pages, inspirational quotes, and many different types of lined paper pages:

Our thanks to Jo, Bethany and Erica at Penguin Random House, and printers Colophon and Lavengro for their help in creating something we’re dead proud of.

Golden Meaning: Fifty-five graphic experiments

The good folks over at GraphicDesign& sent us a copy of their fine new book Golden Meaning: Fifty-five graphic experiments.

It’s almost two years since their first book, Page 1: Great Expectations, explored the world of literature via the first page of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Where that book was mainly typographic in its explorations, this one principally illustrative, looking at the relationship of the Golden ratio to graphic design. We particularly liked the wonderful illustration by Malika Favre:

‘I decided to approach the brief as I remember approaching mathematical exercises in high school, setting strict constraints and rules before moving on to the more instinctive part of the process. As a starting point, I constructed a golden ratio grid within the double page spread without thinking about what I wanted to draw or how I would draw it. Once the grid was finished, I looked at what the lines were showing and saw a silhouette emerging. I started drawing shapes and lines as an overlay, using the lines and angles of the grid as a loose guide but relying on my instinct to create what became a woman walking by.’

Grid and overlay above, finished illustration below.

Other contributors include:

Adrian Talbot

Bibliothèque

Jerzy Skakun and Joanna Górska at Homework

Matt Rice and Christoph Lorenzi at Sennep (play with their design over here - it’s fun).

It’s a lovely book, very much sitting on the ‘book as object’ shelf thanks to a lovely format, foil-blocked cover, and the use of a single spot colour throughout (gold, of course). There’s a slight whiff of the degree show catalogue about it, because of its repetitive portfolio format (each contributor gets an introductory page, then one or two spreads), but with students of this calibre, who’s complaining?

Two more books are already in the pipeline (Religion: Looking good, and Social Science: Graphic designers surveyed), and they should build into a solid collection.

We’d really like to see a book that pulls together creative teams of Designers & Others, where designers are teamed up with philosophers, musicians, biologists, teachers, doctors, dramaturgs and others. That might start some really interesting conversations…

The Best Kids’ Shop in London

Boom! We’re hugely proud to announce that Hoxton Street Monster Supplies has just been nominated as the Best Kids’ Shop in London by the good folks over at Time Out London magazine.

The latest issue of the magazine lists the best 100 shops in the capital, and singles out Hoxton Street Monster Supplies as the very best place for young folk to do a spot of shopping.

Of course, it’s not really a kids’ shop. It’s a shop for monsters. The clue is in the name really. But it would seem impolite to quibble, and the staff are generally fairly tolerant of humans, especially the younger variety.

If you can’t make it along to 159 Hoxton Street, you can buy some of the shop’s wonderful goods at their online store at www.monstersupplies.org

Read more about how we designed the shop, and how we helped set up and design the Ministry of Stories.

Design for Ministers and Monsters

As you might have noticed from our two previous posts, things have been pretty busy lately at the Ministry of Stories and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.

It’s been three years since the Ministry, a young people’s writing centre in Hoxton, opened its secret door at the back of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – the only shop in the world catering exclusively to the needs of monsters. (Check out this post if you need a bit of background to it all.)

In that time, the Ministry (thanks to a small army of volunteers) has helped thousands of children and teenagers to discover their inner authors. They’ve published a series of anthologies of writing by those children, as well as a Guide to Monster Housekeeping (designed by Ed Cornish).

They’ve published a regular newspaper, Hoxton A.M. (designed by Alex Parrott), filmed a soap opera, created a new republic in Shoreditch (designed by Burgess Studio), and, most recently, released an album (designed by We Made This).

Meanwhile, the monster shop has continued to do great business, constantly releasing new products, including Salt made from Tears (from a concept by StudioWeave), and Milk Tooth Chocolate (designed by We Made This).

And that’s just a few of the highlights – there’ve been a whole bunch of other projects, all designed by various brilliant designers (with art direction by We Made This), all of them giving their time and skills for free.

But the Ministry has a whole heap of new projects (small, large, and gargantuan) coming up in the next couple of years, and needs to add to its design roster. That means you!

So if you’re based in London, are ridiculously talented, and want to create something brilliant for the Ministry or the monster shop, drop Alistair a line. We’re happy to hear from freelancers or studios, and from graphic designers, web & interaction designers, and illustrators. There’s no money, but it’s for a fantastic cause, and you’ll get the chance to create something incredible.

Milk Tooth Chocolate

We’ve been busy lately on a variety of projects for the Ministry of Stories and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, and this is the first to hit the shelves: Milk Tooth Chocolate – a smooth milk chocolate with utterly delicious chunks of delicately roasted milk teeth.

It is of course ethically sourced: “Our chocolate is made with only the finest quality molars, gathered by our skilled team of tooth fairies – and children are always paid a fair price for their teeth.”

It’s truly delicious (with an uncanny similarity to milk chocolate with hazelnut pieces).

And, there’s an added bonus – the inside of the wrapper has the beginnings of a short story by Francesca Simon (author of the Horrid Henry books). The story is about the tooth fairy, who is bored and fed up. Francesca has asked for any budding young writers amongst the shop’s customers to help finish the story for her – with the best results being published on the Ministry of Stories website.

As with all Hoxton Street Monster Supplies stuff, the profits from the sale of the bars support free writing workshops for children and young people in east London. You can order them from the monstersupplies.org website – and with Christmas looming, they make fantastic Secret Santa gifts, or stocking fillers.

The bar is produced by the lovely people at the rather brilliant Divine Chocolate - the only Fairtrade chocolate company 45% owned by farmers.

Packaging design and copywriting are by We Made This.

A logo for London

If you think about London, certain images immediately dance around in your mind.

Perhaps some of its buildings: Charles Barry’s Palace of Westminster, Sir Horace Jones’ Tower Bridge, or Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

Or something more recent – Marks and Barfield’s London Eye, Norman Foster’s Gherkin, or Renzo Piano’s Shard?

All individually iconic, but perhaps not representative of the entirety of London.

Often a city becomes known by its skyline, but London has no single point from which it is best viewed, so no single arrangement of its architecture has become dominant. (Though for our money, the view looking east from Waterloo Bridge is hard to beat.)

Other London icons, as evidenced by the wares sold in a thousand tatty tourist shops, include the red double decker bus (probably in the form of Douglas Scott’s Routemaster), and the London black cab (most probably in its Austin FX4 incarnation).

 

Those are the ‘things’ that quickly spring to mind.

But if you’re asked to think of a piece of graphic design that most represents London, then you can’t help but think of the representations of London’s transport systems – either the iconic Transport for London roundel (the name for the circular logo with the bar through the middle), or the ingenious Underground map (shown here in its current incarnation).

While we are familiar with the story of Harry Beck’s design of the map, the story of the roundel has been a little less celebrated (though there is a good short history of its creation on the London Transport Museum site).

Fortunately, David Lawrence’s new book, A Logo for London, sets the record straight, in exacting detail.

The book documents the genesis and evolution of the roundel, demonstrating that rather than being the offspring of any single creative genius, it is the child of many hugely talented designers and administrators – including Frank Pick, Harry Ford, Edward Johnston, Eric Gill, Hans Schleger, and Misha Black from Design Research Unit. It has grown and changed over the course of more than a hundred years to become the defining graphic symbol for London (despite the occasional attempt to find something else to do the job).

Lawrence describes how the roundel had two direct antecedents, in designs used by companies that later became part of the London Transport group.

Firstly, there was the logo of the London General Omnibus Company, designed by a gentleman known as Mr Crane, featuring a spoked bus wheel with a bar through it, adorned by a pair of wings.

Secondly, there were the station signboards of the Metropolitan District Railway, blue enamelled signs with white lettering, which announced which station you were at.

In use around 1906, these were beginning to be swamped by a proliferation of text based advertising which surrounded them at stations. Frank Pick, the real genius behind much of the London Underground’s branding, suggested testing out new signs of different shapes and sizes. A year before, Joseph Carter, Company Secretary of the District line, had done exactly that sort of test, and had come up with a red disc bisected with a blue bar with white lettering. This new design, used for station signboards from 1908 onwards, looked something like this:

These two pieces of design were then brought together by calligrapher Edward Johnston, who had been commissioned by Frank Pick in 1913 to create a single typeface for the Underground (which is a whole other tale in itself). There’s a lovely section in the book detailing Johnston’s correspondence with Harry Carr at the Underground Group about the design of the new Underground logotype.

Johnston’s new Underground roundel, then known as the bulls-eye, was used from around late 1919, and is the moment at which the roundel found the form that is still with us today. Here is a drawing from 1925 detailing its exact proportions:

If we deconstruct the logo, we can see that although it grew out of the spoked wheel logo of London General, and the red circle of the early signboards, it artfully represents both a tunnel, and a train running through it. Or perhaps (at a stretch) a bus running across an abstracted representation of the city. Perhaps, even, the river running from west to east across the city.

It’s possible it doesn’t really matter at this point – its meaning after all is self-defined through use.

Lawrence goes on to show how the logo is gradually introduced across London’s entire transport network, on signage, posters, leaflets, maps and uniforms.

So the old solid red circular sign at South Kensington would have changed to look something more like this:

The design of the roundel stayed more or less the same through to 1935, when Hans Schleger* was commissioned by Frank Pick to put together new designs for bus stop signs. Schleger stripped back the roundel to its simplest form – a coloured circle with a coloured bar, with the type reversed out of the bar. His redesign was gradually implemented right across the network, so that by 1955 station signboards looked more like the one below, stripped of their keylines:

They’ve remained that way more or less until the present day. (Though interestingly, the latest crop of signs have reinstated a keyline, in the form of a silver grey border on some of the signboards.)

Rather brilliantly, nearly all of the Transport for London visual guidelines are available on the TfL website, so it’s easy to see how the roundel is now being used across the city’s vast transport system.

For example, here are all the different networks it represents:

 

 

Not bad for a hundred year old logo. (Although it doesn’t always work perfectly – Taxi·Private Hire roundel, we’re looking at you there.)

A Logo for London, while occasionally a tad dry, is a great addition to the recent crop of books detailing the design of the capital’s transport system (you should also check out Mark Ovenden’s fantastic London Underground By Design).

For more roundel goodness, take a look at the London Underground Poster and London Underground Signs groups on Flickr.

*No Wikipedia page for Hans Schleger? Astounding.

Carters Steam Fair

A couple of weekends ago we got the chance to visit the fantastic Carters Steam Fair while it was visiting Clapham Common.

Carters is a vintage travelling fun fair, entirely run by the Carter family, after John and Anna Carter bought their first ride, the Jubilee Steam Gallopers (below) in 1977. The ride was originally built by Robert Tidman & Sons of Norwich, in 1895; and the Carters extensively repaired and renovated it to get it looking as fine as it does today.

The other main ride they have that’s run on steam is the glorious Excelsior Steam Yachts ride (top and below), built in 1921.

The whole fair features a staggering wealth of traditional fairground art and signwriting, featuring work by Hall and Fowle:

“The later rides owned by Carters Steam Fair are painted in a style of dramatic three-dimensionality by the masters of fairground painting in the first half of the 20th century: Hall and Fowle. Edwin Hall was a master painter producing some beautifully set out and composed Art Deco designs that still stand out to this day; Fred Fowle joined forces with him later. Fowle’s work is unmistakeable in its design and skill, using gold and aluminium leaf, flamboyant enamels and a lot of guts he made some of the most extraordinary and exuberant artwork that can be seen on the fair to this day, most notably the Skid, the Octopus, and the Hook a Duck hoopla stall which are owned by Carters Steam Fair.”

Everything on the fair is still hand-painted, with incredible skill and style, by the Carter family. Indeed, Joby Carter even runs 5-day signwriting courses – the next one coming up this November.

It’s just an amazing place to visit. They even have a coconut shy, and a fantastic penny arcade, which even has a suitably creepy Jolly Jack:

And of course the rides themselves are brilliant.

The fair will be at Belair Park in West Dulwich for the next two weekends, and travelling all round London through to November (check their full diary here). Do go along if you get a chance.

Potter prints

Yesterday, at one of the Clerkenwell Design Week events, we bumped into the very lovely Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, who worked on the graphic design for all eight of the Harry Potter films. Collectively known as Minalima, they’ve recently launched The Printorium, an online market place for a series of lovely fine art prints based on their work for the films.

The prints come in two formats – limited editions of 1,000, embossed and signature stamped; and limited editions of 250, hand signed, which have additional hand-worked details like gold foiling. Where possible, they’re delivered by owl.

It’s really great to see this stuff living on after the movies, and heck, they’d make the most amazing gifts for Potterheads (we had to look that up).

The print below features some ads from from The Daily Prophet, the wizarding newspaper in the films.

Miraphora and Eduardo also have a selection of self-initiated prints available on the site, which are equally lovely.

There’ll be an exhibition of their work at The Conningsby Gallery in London from 17 to 28 June.

Wizard.

London Transport Museum Acton Depot

We made our way over to London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot yesterday – it’s where they house the majority of the collection that’s not on show at the museum itself. As part of the tube’s 150th anniversary they’re having a series of events there, and this weekend was their Open Weekend.

The depot houses a selection of retired tube trains, buses, trams, trolleybuses; and a densely packed mezzanine full of an incredible selection of old signs.

It’s an amazing treasure trove.

And there’s a host of other wonders too. Back on the ground floor there’s a cabinet of woodblock letters, featuring various versions of the Johnston typeface designed  in 1917 by calligrapher Edward Johnston (who actually lived not so far away from Acton, in Chiswick). This was the typeface used throughout the London Underground, and still in use today (in the slightly modified form of New Johnston).

There are some bits of metal type lying around too:

There’s also a model of Strand Station, a now defunct station which you can occasionally take tours around.

There are also examples of the logo designed for the Victoria Line:

and some lovely old ticket machines:

How binary are those? Put your money in, get a ticket. Or don’t put any money in, push a button, and get an Authority to Travel. Brilliant.

Fantastic stuff.

If you missed it this weekend, they’re having a series of guided tours throughout the year.

If you’d like to find out more about the London Underground’s design history, then you should really get yourself a copy of Mark Ovenden’s truly marvellous book London Underground By Design.

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.