ATOT

I have just posted some scans from A Tally Of Types over on The Small Letter. This book has greatly added to my research into Stanley Morison, (mentioned here previously), whom I discovered late last year through a second-hand bookshop purchase of a Monotype Recorder all about this important typographer. I found this second edition of Tally, (it was first published as a private edition ‘Christmas keepsake’ for friends of Cambridge University Press), in an antiques centre in the middle of Suffolk a couple of weeks ago. 

Head on over to The Small Letter to discover why Morison was important to the creation of Gill Sans, what the ‘several hands’ refers to, and other typographic curiosities.

For anyone new to Dubdog, The Small Letter is a research archive of pre-digital print and type related books that I update irregularly.

I have always been fascinated by maps. On returning from family camping holidays in France as a boy, my dad, a photographer by trade, would create a big photo album of our adventures, and in pride of place at the front of these albums he would stick a photostat map of France that detailed our journey. My father had itchy feet on holiday and we would rarely stay in one location more than 2 days before he bundled the five of us back in our rusty old Fiat van to trundle off to another site of interest. I think between the age of 8–14 I must have experienced most of France over 2 week periods every summer. Now days Claire and I mostly holiday in the UK, and as we near the date of departure we always buy an Ordinance Survey map of where we are heading and study it intently. It has become a bit of a ritual which I think harks back to the family holidays of my youth.

This information is given as background to the fact that I have recently come across several personal coincidences featuring maps. Two weeks ago it was my mother’s eightieth birthday, and struggling to think of what to get her I struck upon the idea to take her to Norfolk on a trip down memory lane, (my family had relocated there from London in the 1960s, and as a result it is my county of birth). The obvious way to physically give this as a present to my mum—with the date for the intended trip yet to be arranged—was via a map. So I bought an Ordinance Survey map of The Broads, some stickers, and wrapped them up with an instruction card informing her to choose the locations she wanted to revisit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The coincidence of maps on that weekend happened when early on the Saturday morning, prior to making my mum’s card and wrapping her present, I had to go to the Post Office to pick up my order of Where You Are by Visual Editions, a book / box of maps by “writers, artists and thinkers … each one exploring the idea of what a map can be”. The coincidence was cemented in my mind when sitting down to look through the Visual Edition maps, still prior to creating my mum’s card, and realising another book on my studio table waiting to be read had a map on its front cover. This book about typography and printing was published in 1947 by the long gone Cowell’s printers in Ipswich, which I had been prompted to buy the week before after reading Ruth Artmonsky’s excellent Do You Want It Good Or Do You Want It Tuesday: The Halcyon Days of W.S. Cowell Ltd. Printers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Handbook of Printing Types by John Lewis, published by W.S Cowell Ltd, 1947

The former of these two books, Where You Are, really stretches the traditional concept of what a map actually is and how maps can be interpreted. I was particularly taken with Valeria Luiselli’s beautiful and mysterious Polariods in her map: Swings of Harlem contained within Where You Are, in which she photographed her daughter on every set of swings in every play-park in Harlem. In her text accompanying these images she passes detached thoughts on the location, the procedure of getting to the park, and her own mood as she watches her daughter play and eavesdrops on other people’s parent–child conversations.

I got to thinking about the concept of psychogeography as I read Luiselli’s piece over the following week. In particular I was considering how we can approach the world around us in a detached manner, forming our own maps of our circumstances and psychologies, and how these can differ greatly from maps produced with the purpose of trying to give order to the world around us. Feeding into this thought process was a post I read in February on Al Jazeera America questioning why the north ended up on top of the map. This led me to dig out The Situationist City by Simon Sadler, a book that had been sitting on my shelf unread since I bought it last year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cover of Sadler’s book features Guy Debord’s 1959 psychogeographical map, of which the author says: “…made as part of Debord’s correspondence with his situationist colleague Constant, the piece was a tiny gem of situationist pot-latch (art created as a gift) and détournement (art composed from ‘diverted’ aesthetic elements).” This image in turn reminded me of a catalogue cover I had produced 12 years previously for a graffiti art-trail of Ipswich I curated. The project’s intention was to question what could be constituted as an art gallery and the cover image I designed openly and appropriately rips off Debord’s visual concept—appropriate because situationism was never afraid of plagiarism as a concept and actively courted it as an artistic device, as highlighted by Sadler above when discussing détournement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The catalogue, circa 2002, also contained a map I designed, (below), for exhibition goers to follow. A few years after designing this I realised it was similar to a map of London that NB Studio created, (see link). I don’t know when NB Studio made their work, but if it was prior to my map, I was completely ignorant of it at the time—this is a statement which I realise calls into question my honesty considering my previous comment about Debord’s map, but I swear it is true. Regardless of this, anyone looking at NB Studio’s map will soon agree that my mediocre design effort pales into insignificance in comparison.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To wrap up all this map talk I suppose that I’ve come to realise that all my recent thinking around the subject has actually been a journey in itself, and therefore, this blog post is a map of my thought processes over the last few weeks. I will be the first to admit that these thoughts and coincidences are somewhat ill formed and disjointed at the moment, but I’m currently ruminating on many different thoughts with the hope of formulating some of the more interesting ones into a future project. So without wanting to force a pun, I haven’t come to the end of my journey in this matter, and I fully expect to return to it again here in the near future.

However, it is probably worth pointing out an irony from the starting point of this post. On the way to a celebratory meal in a pub for my mother’s eightieth birthday on the evening of the aforementioned Saturday, at which my childhood fellow French adverturer brother and sister were going to be present, Claire and I got completely lost on the drive there, too reliant were we on Apple’s iPhone Maps app!

 

LynchI spent a very agreeable Saturday with my friend Liz a couple of week’s ago visiting various exhibitions in London. The main objective was to catch the Warhol, Burroughs and Lynch shows at The Photographers Gallery, but we also took in the Royal Academy’s Sensing Spaces, before making the unwise decision to take in the Portrait Gallery on the first sunny day of the year on a busy Saturday afternoon.

The Photography Gallery shows were a mixed bunch. I thought the Warhol exhibition was largely pointless, with the images being shown more because they were by Warhol rather than because there was anything inherently interesting in the photographs themselves. The only shots that really made sense to exhibit, in my opinion, were the ones where Warhol had repeat printed and stitched together creating gridded montages much like some of his screenprints. At least with these there was some tangible link to how he approached the physical production of other works of his. I also thought the Lynch show was boring. Photographs of abandoned and derelict buildings, albeit expertly shot, were dull in the extreme. In fact, I would go as far as to say they were pretentiously dull; shot entirely in black and white I felt he was trying too hard to create ‘art’, and it was all a bit like looking at a 1980s British Journal of Photography annual. However, well worth the entrance fee alone was the Burroughs show. Of the three, he was the only artist who gave the sense he was truly experimenting with the medium, testing and pushing the capabilities. And the shots themselves had a far stronger narrative. While Warhol was playing and Lynch was trying too hard, Burroughs was exploring a medium and seeing what it could do and what he could produce.

RADiébédoFrancisKéréOver at the Royal Academy the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined show was a blast. Each room had a different theme, and you were encouraged to be interactive with the work. As you walked around each exhibit created a different atmosphere in their given spaces which engaged the viewer and took them with the work. There could have been no more an explicit introduction to the uninitiated as to the power of architecture to influence moods and behaviour. For example, the image above of Diébedo Francis Kéré’s piece encouraged visitors to stick brightly coloured straws into the structure to create a furry, fun walkthrough. While the mausoleum  solemnness of Grafton Architects’ main room stopped people in their tracks, slowed them down and made them gape upwards in astonishment, (see below).

RAGrafton3And Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s monstrous wooden beauty could be climbed via a ramp or spiral staircases in the legs, which allowed a closer view of the Academy’s architectural gilding linking the imposing structure with the building that housed it and bringing a greater appreciation of everyone’s surroundings.

RAPezovonEllrichshausenWhile I wasn’t overly impressed with two of the shows at the Photography Gallery, I would still highly recommend a visit, and the Royal Academy is only a short 5-10 minute walk away, which would be a shame to miss while it is still on.

Warhol, Lynch and Burroughs is on at the Photographers Gallery until 30 March.

Sensing Spaces is on at the Royal Academy of arts until 6 April.

More photographs over on Flickr.

ChildhoodRemixed_cover

I’m proud to have recently finished working on the third edition of Childhood Remixed, a University Campus Suffolk (UCS) online interdisciplinary academic journal themed on childhood. The journal, published annually, has previously only featured papers from staff and students at UCS. However, this year much of the publication has been made up of submissions to the international Children and Childhoods Conference held at UCS in July of last year.

ChildhoodRemixed_welcome

The international flavour of this edition demonstrates not just how much the journal has grown in three years, but how much UCS has developed in that time as well. First launched in 2012, Childhood Remixed was intended as a ‘stepping stone’ into the world of being peer-reviewed and published. For third year undergraduate and postgraduate students, and for lecturers who hadn’t been published before, this was an excellent opportunity for a safe trial into the daunting world of academic publishing. The journal still provides this platform, but now allows those same students and staff to be featured alongside academics and researchers from across the globe.

ChildhoodRemixed_pagesIt is hoped with this international issue, that the journal will be available to the wider public soon as a download rather than just internally within UCS as the previous two editions have been. More details will be posted here when it is available.

Thanks to Dr Alison Boggis, Senior Lecturer in Early Years at UCS, who has tirelessly pushed this publication forward since its first inception three years ago.  Read a report of the launch of the first edition here on Blogger.

One sunny Sunday afternoon walk around Woodbridge today and all I seemed to see around me were examples of living, moving typography.

ImageThis antique shop’s sign caught my eye with its peeling letterforms. There’s something fittingly accidental in the evolving visual language of an old sign decaying for an antique’s dealer. And the shapes created by this natural ageing process give up unique shapes—a typeface being undesigned, if such a thing were possible—that organically visualise the forward march of time. While the motion may not be obvious in the moment in which I looked at these, motion had happened and was happening none–the–less, albeit at a very, very slow rate.

ImageAnother antique shop had a similar feel but this time caused by peeling paint, rather than lifting vinyl.

ImageI moved from black and white to a dash of colour when walking through a graveyard and I caught sight of moss taking hold to letterforms carved on a gravestone. An interesting thought occurred to me that this type that usually memorialises the dead has turned into a piece of living type, changing with the seasons.

Image

ImageLater, after returning from Woodbridge and taking the dog for a walk I found this spray painted GUR on a local heath that doubles as a golf course. I have no idea what GUR stands for, and as this is a golf course it is likely to be cut short before anyone will get to see how it develops. But it is still a piece of living typography while it lasts, as the grass grows.

Image

Timelessness

Last week I was asked to introduce Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica for a screening to UCS MA Journalism students and members of the public. Afterwards, in a question and answer session, someone unexpectedly asked if I thought Helvetica was timeless. It was a good question in relation to the film we had just watched, but not one that I had anticipated being asked, and therefore I said the first thing that came into my head, (and a little more sharply than maybe I should have done). As the thought of something being timelessness has always seemed an odd concept to me, I stated that nothing was timeless.

As a result of this knee-jerk response, the idea of timelessness has been on my mind all week. It is a phrase that crops up again and again in graphic design circles. It is often spoken of as a quality of good logo design and it is supposedly one of the characteristics that a design classic should embody, according to the cover of Phaidon’s publication on the same topic at least.

Phaidon2

But I’m highly sceptical about this. Taking issue with Phaidon’s description, if you look at my idea of a design classic—the iconic Donor Card as written about here a few weeks ago—it could never be described as timeless. Its styling’s are very much of the 1970s.

DonorCardThen

Any piece of visual communication stays the same as the world around it moves on, leaving the item caged in the aesthetics of the time it was created. Think of one of the most famous pieces of graphic design in the history of this country—Beck’s Underground map—it is absolutely a product of its time. It may have been tweaked, altered and changed over the years, and maybe not enough each time that anyone would notice that it was dramatically different from its predecessor. But if you see the original and the current version side by side, you can automatically see that it came from a different era. Jump to a recent piece of famous graphic design, the 2012 Olympics logo, and that arguably started to date even before the games started, designed as it was 5 years previously.

HarryBeck_TubeMap_580

Harry Beck’s original Underground Map c.1932

standard-tube-map

Current version of the Underground Map

To strive to make something timeless from the outset is to set oneself a challenge that I believe can never be achieved. Maybe as an old Marxist I’m still stuck with the philosophy that everything changes; but this is an philosophy that history seems to have proved right. As a designer, at best you may create some sort of longevity in a piece of work. If your creation doesn’t have to be redesigned too soon then your client can get many years of service out of it, decades even, but eventually it will look dated.

I accept that in the case of a typeface much of that dating may depend on the application. Sure, Helvetica can still look contemporary when applied well in 2014 as much as it did when it was designed in 1957, but that is because it may be used in a contemporary setting. However, there are plenty of examples from the history of graphic design where it looks outdated. I agree that one has to be cognisant of the fact that there are lots of things that can change the appearance of a typeface even if the individual characters remain the same; tracking, point size, uppercase/lowercase, background colour, supporting imagery such as illustration, photography or other graphic architecture; all will alter how you ‘read’ the form of the face and bring different meaning to it. But over time, the choices diminish and it has to be asked whether Helvetica will still have fresh ways of being applied in 1000 years time? I personally doubt it.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally scanned in some pages from The Monotype Recorder: Stanley Morison 1889–1967, as mentioned here in August 2013. Scans have been posted to The Small Letter blog with preliminary notes.

StanleyMorison_AReminderAbove is a Christmas card designed by Morison, who had served time in prison in 1916 as a ‘war-resister’. Morison looks to be a fascinating character, and one that I hadn’t come across prior to discovering this document in a second-hand bookshop. In the opening paragraph of the Monotype Recorder, Moran asks: “…how should a man of Morison’s multitudinous activities be described for the benefit of future generations?”, before going on to say, “His own modest preference, ‘typographical consultant’…is utterly inappropriate for a man who was not only a typographical and liturgical scholar, teacher, designer, editor, author, printer and publisher but who was also responsible for making available an unrivalled range of typefaces, both classic and contemporary”.

More notes will follow on The Small Letter once I’ve finished reading this.

When I was a design student there didn’t seem to be an abundance of books about graphic design. There were obviously some, such as recommended canons on the discipline like Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, but they were few and far between. And none, to my eyes, seemed particularly contemporary in their approach to relating to the subject.

IMG_6495

Thankfully this is no longer the case. In the last ten years there has been an explosion in the amount of books published about the subject, from self-published/vanity monographs to historical re-tellings, from exhibition tie-ins to in-depth breakdowns of the process of designing. Academic/student friendly publishing houses such as AVA, (now under Bloomsbury), and Laurence King have gone a long way to help those studying graphic design today, and it is likely that the growth of undergraduate graphic design students over the last 10 years has created a captive audience.

One publishing house that is worthy of praise for its output in the last few years is Unit Editions. Set up in 2009 by Tony Brook of Spin, and Adrian Shaughnessy, previously of Intro, their first releases trickled slowly onto the market but quickly established a standard of exceptional quality in both the critical content and production values. Their output has increased dramatically since then, and in the last 18 months alone they’ve published monographs on over-looked designers; FHK Henrion, Herb Lubalin and Ken Garland. They’ve also produced a study on contemporary expressive typography: Type Only, and a collection of Shaughnessy’s writing collated from various websites and magazines that he contributes to, titled Scratching The Surface.

threecolumn_page header_optimised2

The lavish production values of FHK Henrion monograph: Unit Editions—2013. (Photo: Unit Editions.)

Brook and Shaughnessy describe Unit Editions as producing books “for designers by designers”. While it is true that the latter two publications mentioned above do add to an introspective discourse about contemporary graphic design practice, and the designer/publishers have been showcased on many design blogs such as It’s Nice That, I believe that what Unit Editions are doing is much more than just ‘for designers’.

The desire to showcase designers that have become ‘lost’ in the fog of design history, such as Henrion et al, is obviously a desire to pay these people their dues. The research into their past; how they became designers; what underpinned their practice, (in terms of personal ethos); as well as the excellent archiving of their life’s work, should also be of great interest to those outside of the discipline as well as to designers. For to document their contributions to society at large is to showcase their relevence to popular culture. It is difficult to read Structure and Substance without getting the sense that Garland is dedicated to making the best work he can for the end user. The fact that these designers understood who they were creating work for underpinned an ethos of responsibility in their thinking about graphic design that fed into the aesthetic appeal of what they produced. When you then consider that their work has influenced the world we see around us today by feeding into the evolution of graphic design and how the viewer reads visual communications in their everyday, it is fair to say they also helped to fashion social history.

Ken_Garland_Spread_p23_NEW_full product_optimised2

Spread from Ken Garland, Structure and Substance: Unit Editions—2012. (Photo: Unit Editions.)

It is interesting to note that at the conferences Graphic Design: History In The Making, and Critical Tensions, both held at St Bride Library in 2011, several speakers discussed the standing of graphic design history and graphic design practice in the eyes of the general public. At the latter, Jonathan Barnbrook spoke of graphic designers being the lowest regarded ‘arts’ discipline after advertising, while the history themed conference debated why graphic design was not afforded the respect with which art history is bestowed. While it is fair to claim that many graphic designers have chips on their shoulders, these are still relevant debating points. To address the issue of design history’s standing, someone speaking from the floor at History In The Making stated that graphic design can only ever be judged by non-designers in relation to its original context. In other words, a designs’ reason for existence is what it should be judged against. And in my mind, Unit Editions have come closest to publishing books on what is generally an inward-looking discipline that are accessible, and attractive, to a much wider audience than just designers.

Ken_Garland_Spread_p138_full product_optimised2

Spread from Ken Garland, Structure and Substance: Unit Editions—2012. (Photo: Unit Editions.)

I will look forward to the publications that will come out of Unit Editions during 2014, as well as those that other publishing houses produce. Unlike when I was a student, it is fair to say that books about graphic design have never been in ruder health. The bonus that they could be seen as of great importance in documenting social history is one I think that should be championed, and could go a long way to repositioning graphic design in the mind of the general public.

For more on Unit Editions and design books in general, then check out this excellent interview with Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy on Designers & Books.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers

%d bloggers like this: