Archived posts: Product

(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 Originally made at the beginning of the 1960s, the watches and clocks he designed for Junghans have a really refined elegance.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.

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 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.

Tinned Fear

So it seems, unfortunately for London’s monster community, that Spring has arrived. The days are getting longer, the sun is out, and the painfully joyous sounds of birdsong, human laughter and children playing are now unavoidable. Suddenly it’s twice as difficult to scare humans. Children in particular are unpleasantly confident.

So Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is offering a gargantuan 50% discount on all varieties of Tinned Fear for children*. Up until 8 June, each of the five kinds of Tinned Fear will be available for just £4. Or you can get the whole set of five for a laughable £17.

“Being unable to terrify even the smallest child was embarrassing and demoralising. Tinned Fear helped me out when nothing else could. I feel whole again.” Mr Hyde, London

*Rumours that they’re doing this because of a stock error by a zombie in the ordering department are entirely true.


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.


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.

Designing the Extraordinary

We recently made our way over to the V&A to check out their new exhibition of work from the fantastic Heatherwick Studio, Designing the Extraordinary.

Thomas Heatherwick’s studio, established in 1994, creates work across a wide spectrum of disciplines: architecture, furniture, engineering, sculpture, transport and urban planning.

From their Rolling Bridge  (above) at the Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin, which unfurls like the frond of a fern (you can see it do so at midday each Friday), to the extraordinary UK Pavilion (below) for the Shanghai Expo 2010, all of the studio’s work is informed by a fascination with materials and forms; and by a real joy in experimentation and exploration.

The densely-packed show features a wealth of models, products and test pieces from the studio. The gallery guide is even given the Heatherwick treatment – it’s stored on huge rolls of paper, reminiscent of the rolls used in the web-fed offset printing of newspapers. You turn a crank-handle to spool out your own guide from one of the rolls. It’s an engagingly lo-fi opener to the show, and hints at the playfulness of the work in the rest of the exhibition.

In London we’ll soon have a fleet of Heatherwick’s designs making their way round the city, as eight of the new London buses go into service in the capital. There’s been a whole heap of controversy about the buses – an abhorrently expensive vanity project for the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson; or a dazzling step forward in transport design, depending on who you’re speaking to.

The show, which runs until the end of September, is well worth a visit, and there’s an accompanying hefty tome, Thomas Heatherwick: Making from Thames & Hudson.

For more on Heatherwick, check out the Guardian’s guided tour of the show, and Mike Dempsey’s interview with Heatherwick on the RDI Insights page.

Salt made from Tears

The latest product range from Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, Salt made from Tears, has just launched.

The salt is collected from humans experiencing a range of emotions, and in various situations. You can pick up salt made from: tears of sorrow, tears shed while sneezing, tears shed while chopping onions, tears of laughter, and tears of anger. Each has a distinctly different flavour – salt made from tears of sorrow has a delicate lavender flavour, perfect for seasoning limbs and organs.

The salts are produced by the fine folk at Halen Mon, and are the brilliant idea of the lovely people at Studio Weave, with additional design by We Made This. You can buy them in the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop, or from their online store, either individually, or as the full range.

(And heck, the style press are even taking an interest…)


The Salt has been getting good press all over the place, including: Gizmodo, Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, The Independent, the Daily Mail, Uncrate, and the Huffington Post.

British Design 1948–2012

We nipped along this morning to the big new show at the V&A, British Design 1948-2012, a retrospective of the creative industries in Britain since the end of the Second World War. Timed to make the most of the Olympic hordes who’ll be hitting the capital this summer (the show ends the same day as the Olympic closing ceremony), it’s a clear attempt to grab back some of the glory from the sporting crowd. Which is no bad thing.

This is the first big exhibition of post-war design that the V&A has staged, and it covers fashion, furniture, fine art, graphic design, photography, ceramics, architecture and industrial products. It’s good to have all of that creative output lumped together, even if it does mean that you can only have a few key pieces from each discipline. Pleasingly there’s rather more graphic design than we’d anticipated, particularly from the period just after the war, with work from Abram Games, Edward Bawden, Reginald Mount, and David Gentleman.

The show is grouped into three main areas, Tradition & Modernity; Subversion; and Innovation and Creativity, which run more or less chronologically from 1948 to the present day. The three groupings don’t necessarily help, creating rather forced divisions between periods and styles. But there’s lots of great stuff on display, including four hand-painted maquettes for British road signs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert; and a page from Design Research Unit’s British Rail Design Manual.

The second section, Subversion, deals mainly with the rise of the art school and a more youth oriented period of design – so you get Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols posters, Vivienne Westwood’s punk clothing designs, some Beatles album covers, and of course Peter Saville, Barney Bubbles and Neville Brody. Which is all well and good, but unfortunately this part of the exhibition is designed with a rather clichéd underground vibe – lots of black walls and industrial fittings, which really cheapens the work on display, making it feel like we’re walking through some sort of gaudy themed tourist attraction.

The third section focuses more on manufacturing industries, technology and architecture. Somehow the curators have managed to use Apple’s iMac as a pioneering example of British technology design (Jonathan Ive, the iMac’s designer is from these shores, sure, but come on…). Elsewhere there’s a model of Concorde, an E-Type Jag, a Topper sailing boat, and Kenneth Grange’s Brownie Vecta camera.

Meanwhile, graphic design in this section is represented by Wolff Olins’ hideous London 2012 logo (it just doesn’t get any better does it?); their Orange logo from 1994, and Alan Fletcher’s lovely V&A logo from 1989 (rather happily referencing Ian Dennis’s National Theatre logo, which is shown earlier in the exhibition).

Our favourite exhibit though was these Globoots from 1969:

They were unique at the time of their production, being double dip-moulded in two different plastics, so that the translucent uppers and opaque soles were made in one piece, without seams. And crikey, don’t they look like a certain coloured computer designed in the USA by a British bloke called Jonny?

Our only real gripe is that it features way too much art. The show is British Design 1948-2012, not British Art & Design 1948-2012, but we’re treated to work from Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Allen Jones, David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Obviously there’s crossover between the disciplines, and many of those artists worked in design as well as art, but the pieces shown are their artworks rather than their design pieces. So for example, we get Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging painting rather than any of his fantastic stage designs. This seems like a real shame, given how much great design has had to be left out to make room for the art.

Overall though, it’s a great show, and anyone interested in design should get along quick smart.

The show opens on Saturday 31 March, and runs until 12 August.

Picture credit for top image: Children crossing sign, by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir for the Ministry of Transport, 1964 © Margaret Calvert

The New Design Museum

So, as you may well know, the Design Museum in London is planning to move from its current home in Shad Thames right across town, and into the former Commonwealth Institute building, at “the wrong end of a Kensington shopping street” as architecture critic Stephen Bayley has previously put it.


The move won’t happen until 2014, but in the meantime, the museum’s latest newsletter has asked the design community to give some feedback on their proposals to the local council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Unfortunately, the planning department has hosted the files in a way that really doesn’t invite much feedback, but it might be worth wading through them.

High Street Kensington does seem like a slightly strange place for the Design Museum to move to – it’s not really a part of town you immediately think of when you think about design – and that’s despite the presence of the Royal College of Art, and slightly further away the V&A. But the building is quite groovy, and they’ve got John Pawson on-board for the remodelling, so there’ll be stacks of clean white spaces to enjoy. And the plans do involve far more exhibition space, as well as lots more education space, which can only be a good thing.

And heck, how great would it be if there was space for a permanent collection of British graphic design?

Clare Skeats on Foundation

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today’s post is from the marvellous Clare Skeats – an incredible book designer, and brilliant design teacher. ~

Since 2009, I’ve been lucky enough to work as an Associate Lecturer on the Central Saint Martins Foundation Course in Art & Design. This involves leaving my stress-inducing desk for a day each week and immersing myself in the creative educations of 30 or so young people. For those of you who don’t know, Foundation is the year of study (usually undertaken around age 19) in which students experience learning in every art and design discipline, before deciding what to specialise in for a BA. Its main objective is as much to de-programme school conditioning, as it is to inform, provoke, equip and inspire.

I often find myself having to explain to people who have not come through an art or design education, what, exactly, the point of Foundation is. A frequently occurring question is ‘why do they need to do that?’. Fair point. Why should it take a year longer to graduate in jewellery design than say, marine biology? Doubts aside, almost everyone I speak to who has done this year of study (myself included), cite it as one of the most vital, pivotal and enjoyable years of their education. But it’s a year that is quickly overlooked – it’s the support act for the more talked-about BA. It’s also no secret that some Foundation courses are facing closure due to funding. So I wanted to use my 15 minutes in the We Made This spotlight to celebrate this stage in an artist’s or designer’s development and explain why I think it’s so special.

One of the first things we have to do on the course is to get students over their fears – fears of a new place (often a new country), new people, a new way of working – and one excellent (if unlikely) way of doing this is to get them to do something where we deny them an element or two of their control.

These two objects (above and top) are the results of an exercise where the students were asked to sculpt an elephant from clay, in 30 seconds with their hands behind their backs. When restrictions such as these are imposed, it’s impossible not to produce something with this much honesty and charm – it’s such a pure and uninhibited response to a creative brief. The laughter that ensues when these roughly-hewn grey lumps are offered up, represents a significant threshold of the first few days experience.

A major requirement of Foundation students is for them to keep a sketchbook. A Foundation sketchbook is instantly recognisable by its bulging form. It is the fertile receptacle of ideas, inspiration, tests, mistakes, frustrations and triumphs.

I love the sense of urgency and spontaneity that comes across in this spread by Sing Yu Chan (progressing to BA Fashion Design Technology (Menswear) at London College of Fashion); the instant visual connection he makes between the reference on the left and its hasty translation to cardboard and string weaving samples in the centre.

This impressive escalation of an idea (below), which grew from an exercise in folding a sheet of paper, is another example of sketchbook brilliance from Yang Yang (progressing to BA Costume Design at Wimbledon College of Art). It demonstrates so succinctly how a sketchbook can give a platform to the most ambitious (if ephemeral) creative plans.

One of the things I get most excited about with teaching at this level, is the scale of ideas that can be suggested through the most humble of materials.

This rather unassuming-looking object by Florence Lam (progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins) was produced in response to a visit to a recent exhibition of South African photography at the V&A. The black line (which is intended to be continuous – encircling the floor, walls and ceiling of the gallery space), is intended as a comment on Apartheid. I was surprised by my reaction to this piece when I saw it – yes it’s just some bits of foam board and black paint – but peering through the miniature doorway, it was so easy to imagine oneself in this impossibly cavernous and divided space. The scale is so perfectly judged and the whole piece is so much more than the sum of its parts – it’s an unexpectedly powerful expression of an idea from very limited means.

Another masterful deployment of basic materials can be found in these wonderful, organic, pod-like objects from Yao Wang (also progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins). Who knew that a balloon, a bucket, Plaster of Paris and physics could produce such beautiful forms?

When I was speaking to Yao, shortly after her prototype stage, she had an urge to remove the shreds of balloon – an understandable drive to ‘finish’ the project as she’d first intended. But we decided that the unforeseen beauty of the red latex stretched over the smooth plaster was way too interesting and so ‘finishing’ the project in its most conventional sense became completely unimportant. Whilst we try to instil a disciplined approach with a focus on pragmatic problem solving – it is these unexpectedly brilliant outcomes and deviations that keep the students open to possibilities and reminds us as tutors not to be too rigid.

Allowing students the flexibility to bend rules is always a difficult one to judge. On the one hand, we put time and effort into writing a brief and we want the students to learn to respond to set questions with rigour and focus – but on the other, we run the risk of sucking the life out of a project if we’re too dogmatic. The following film piece by Venice Wanakornkul (progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins), is the most perfect and playful example of why we need to allow students to bend rules. When faced with a brief to produce a piece of work in response to a culture (chosen from artefacts within the V&A), Venice opted to focus her outcome on the culture of museums. Hm…. not quite what we’d asked for – but the idea Venice had, subverted the brief in such a delightful way, we simply had to allow her to pursue it. Here is her film:

I never cease to be surprised and impressed by how sophisticated some students are in their thinking at this stage – how they utilise research and process information. The images here are from the sketchbook of Michael Ng (progressing to BA Product Design at Central Saint Martins) and they are such an impressive demonstration of lateral thinking in response to the Culture project described above.

Having made some initial drawings of these Japanese artefacts in the V&A (traditional cases for holding small objects), Michael undertakes further internet research, before leaping to references of inter-locking pens, stacking crates and coffee cups, then back to Samurai warrior helmets for a further re-think on the form, before producing this prototype to a more geometric design. Michael went on to develop the design even further, incorporating lights, (yes lights!), but I think even up to this stage of his project, his sense of investigation and spirit of ‘how can I make this better?’ is so wonderfully clear to see.

The experience of teaching on Foundation has lead me to re-appraise my own working methods and to be more open to wider influences. It has made me reconnect to my own experiences on Foundation and reminds me of a time when everything seemed new and different – sometimes uncomfortably so. But most importantly, it puts me in an environment once a week, where industry cynicism makes no unwelcome intrusions and anything can be possible.

With thanks to the staff and students on the Central Saint Martins Foundation Plus course, 2011.

[The opinions expressed above are those of Clare Skeats and do not necessarily reflect those of Central Saint Martins.]


~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

1 car space = 10 bicycles

How cool is this? Spotted on The Cut at Waterloo, it’s one of Cyclehoop’s Car Bike Racks, installed by Lambeth Council.

They’re designed to be installed either temporarily or permanently, and convert one car parking space into ten bike parking spaces. It’s even got a free pump integrated into the frame, so you can keep your tyres nice and firm.

It’s a cracking piece of product design – functional, simple, eye-catching, elegant, witty and thought-provoking. Not bad for a bike rack (but pretty much what you’d expect from the guys who created the brilliant Cyclehoop). We’d love to see loads more of these about town.