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Book jacket proposal (front and back)—work in progress

Graphic Interruptions is reaching some sort of climax as I prepare the final artwork for a one off self-published book to go to print this week. As I near the end of this stage of the project, (i.e., an assessment hand-in for a 40 credit module in mid-May for my masters degree), for no reason what-so-ever other than a little procrastination, I’ve worked out some (sketchy) stats for the project to date:

—55 photographs in book, edited down from 224
—7 short psychogeographic writing trials
—1 long psychogeographic essay with umpteen drafts
—1 introduction essay of over 1300 words, 6 drafts and copious notebook ramblings
—3 book print trials
—7+ layout trials
—untold changes in direction
—7 months reading/researching, photographing, questioning, reflecting
—6 blog posts in duration of MA, (+1 associated)
—One 3 year old blog post, (genesis of project concept)
—3 presentations
—5 critiques
—2 ring binders
—63 plastic wallets
—2 sets of inkjet cartridges
—2 maps
—One 19x25cm Moleskine softcover notebook
—One 14x21cm Leuchtturm1917 softcover notebook
—3 or 4 Lamy rollerball cartridges
—untold visits to the library
—uncountable Google searches, RSS feed follow-ups and Evernote bookmarks
—1 part-related meeting with a publisher
—1 venn diagram

 

 

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With the day job taking over of late, it’s been a while since I’ve managed to get to a graphic design talk. But thanks to an invite from Kemistry Gallery for helping with their recent Kickstarter campaign, I managed to get up to London one evening last week for a talk that was boldly titled Graphic Design: what next? With design critic, journalist, educator and publisher Adrian Shaughnessy; Why Not Associates’ Andy Altmann and designer/artist Daniel Eatock speaking, it would have been rude not to attend. And besides, I was intrigued as to what they would claim was next for graphic design.

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Gordon Young/Why Not Associates: Comedy Carpet, 2011. (Photo: comedycarpet.com)

So did any of the speakers answer the question? Well, not exactly. One tried more than the other two, but Andy Altmann, who was up first, did swear at the beginning of his talk that he was instructed to talk about Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet—Why Not Associate’s joint project with artist Gordon Young. And why not, (to coin a phrase)? If anyone should attempt to break the ‘rules’, then I think Andy Altmann has had plenty of experience of doing so and no-one should expect him to change now.

The story of the Comedy Carpet is a truly awe inspiring one, and despite knowing much about the project already, hearing the tale from Altmann himself revealed much more than I could previously ever have known. Interesting memories were keenly told, such as the tale that meeting Ken Dodd at the launch of the project humbling Altmann. However, he still managed to break a cardinal sin of comedy—being bowled over by Dodd telling him a joke while standing on his creation, Altmann blurted out the punchline as he had previously heard the gag. Dodd was not pleased, apparently. (In case you are wondering; Q: “How do you get a fat girl into bed? A: “Piece of cake”.) And the story that Gordon Young, in setting up his own concrete company in order to cut the costs of the project, had to get in one of the UK’s leading experts on concrete who just happened to be Harry Hill’s dad, was gold-dust. (I will resist going into detail here about the Comedy Carpet for those uninitiated with it, check out the dedicated website to the project for more details.)

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FHK Henrion (Photo: Unit Editions)

When Adrian Shaughnessy took the stage he wondered how he was going to follow Altmann’s tales, and he was also concerned he had no jokes. But at least he tried to answer the question. In choosing designer FHK Henrion to discuss—of whom Unit Editions had published a book about in 2013—Shaughnessy put the case that as a ‘complete’ designer Henrion demonstrated an attitude that future graphic designers would need to have in this ever evolving discipline. Henrion started his career as a poster artist, in the footsteps of Cassandra and Games. He then went on to be instrumental in introducing visual branding to the UK, producing in-depth identity guidebooks. He also brought his social concerns to the fore by producing work for CND, become an educator, product designer, interior architecture designer and worked in a host of other areas of design, including the emerging field motion graphics for television. A true all-rounder, one of the key aspects of his approach was to bring an open mind to all projects, in terms of what could be achieved, which meant all his work was truly tested the boundaries of design thinking. If the phrase ‘can do’ was invented for anyone, then surely it was for Henrion. In pitching that future designers should avoid becoming a niche entity and be open to all experiences, Shaughnessy put forward a credible case.

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Daniel Eatock, 1996. (Photo: Daniel Eatock)

The third and final speaker was Daniel Eatock. I have been a longtime admirer of Eatock’s work and his approach in putting ideas at the heart of his outcomes. For his talk Eatock went for the middle ground and attempted to answer the question at the end after he had spoken about his work. Conceptual as ever, he decided on a system for his presentation: 20 years in 20 minutes, one project a year for one minute each, (an Eatockian Pecha Kucha if you like). He failed, due to over-talking about some projects, but this didn’t matter. It was interesting to hear him discuss his desire in his early practice to try to eradicate subjectivity from his work, fearing that style and decoration was too shallow and over-shadowed the concept. His family’s 1996 Christmas card pictured above was one attempt at this. I would argue that it is impossible to be completely objective in design, for even the choice of typeface and deliberate ‘non-styling’ becomes a style and subjective choice. Regardless, this was a fascinating insight into Eatock’s thinking and was genuinely thought provoking.

In wrapping up his talk Eatock finally attempted to answer the question of ‘what next?’, by providing a slightly awkwardly worded statement. It suggested, (and I paraphrase), that problems shouldn’t necessarily be the starting point of design, and that through investigating outcomes first, we will uncover problems we didn’t previously know existed. Or to put it in simpler terms, produce answers in order to find questions. In throwing out such a knotty statement, Eatock has, for my money, at least tried to answer the question with some sense of critical thinking and avoided defining graphic design purely in terms of commerce which is too often the case. The latter usually closes down critical thinking rather than opening it up, and if graphic design is to be anything other than a means to sell stuff, then we have to resist the market place defining our reference points, even if the market place is where most designers have to operate in order to pay their rent or mortgage.

This very enjoyable evening was rounded off with a Q&A session chaired by Ravensbourne Course Director Liz Friedman, in which education, a hand’s-on approach to design, and ‘post-digital’ became subjects of discussion.

Kemistry Gallery now starts the long haul towards trying to establish a centre for Graphic Design in London.

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I’ve just finished reading Wilson Neate’s excellent book about Wire called Read & Burn. Much like Wire’s proclamations in 1977 that for the band there were to be: “No solos; no decoration; when the words run out, it stops; we don’t chorus out; no rocking out; keep it to the point; no Americanisms,” Neate states of the book that: “This book was not read, vetted, or approved by Wire; this book is not a biography of Wire collectively or individually; this book is not about the band-members’ solo projects; this book does not forensically dissect each of Wire’s albums; this book does not mention every Wire song, record sleeve, tour or gig; this book does not provide a complete discography.”

Except for the first statement above about Wire not approving the book, the remainder of Neate’s manifesto is somewhat inaccurate. It is a biography, it does forensically dissect Wire albums, and it has a pretty comprehensive discography at the back. Even the first statement is at odds with the fact that Wire sell the publication as part of a package with their latest album: Change Becomes Us.

Despite this, Read & Burn tells the fascinating story of the band from their pre-Wire days at art school up to the rationale behind 2013’s Change Becomes Us. On the surface of it this book will seem to have little to interest non-Wire fans. The trawl through album tracks and how they came about will be excruciating for those who don’t know the work. At times, and I count myself as a Wire fan, I had to go back and listen to tracks to brief myself on what was being discussed. But this aside, what I would recommend it for, to the non-Wire fan, particularly those who work in creative fields, is the insight into creative tensions and artistic endevour. Throughout the book it highlights different takes by individuals about the same events, and how collaborative working is a difficult beast when egos and pretensions clash. The fact that each band member, (and band associates), were interviewed separately allows individuals to recount their side of the story, deconstructing their methodologies, likes and dislikes about what they’ve done, all the while being acutely aware that each member of the band will probably read the book at some stage. Each band member are all highly critical of Wire as a project, of each other, and of their output. But they intelligently examine what they’ve achieved collectively, from the prospective of creating sound experiments and art pieces that form a body of work by Wire, (there is often a sense of detachment when they use the band name, as if it is a living entity in itself). And as pretentious as that sounds, Read & Burn can be read more as a study of the psychology of artists working together than anything else, which makes it all the more interesting than your average rock biography.

The fact that Wire are still going after all these years, through almost wilful self-destruction, (and not in a standard drink and drugs narrative), is remarkable. As a catalogue of advice of how not to create a successful band, the following should probably be taught at rock schools everywhere: they refused to play old music at their gigs up until recently, (they once hired a Wire tribute band to support them live so they didn’t have to play old material): they wilfully alienated fans by staging experimental performance art pieces at shows; they would showcase new and developing work live; they immediately rejected the punk scene that spawned them on the release of their first ‘punk’ album; they  created sound experiments based on their own invented ‘dugga‘ rhythms and played the piece that came from this, Drill, live on American TV rather than their latest single, much to the annoyance of their record label; guitarist Bruce Gilbert refused to play on tracks that were too pop orientated for his liking—all these things, and much more, show the band as being wilfully perverse in their approach to earning a living from what they did. Much of this is down to the creative tensions in the band, of four people who clearly don’t particularly like each other, but who realise that as a creative unit they make something special, something that has a degree of uniqueness and as a result is a refreshing antidote  to your average band fixated on stardom who will compromise any integrity they might have in the quest for success.

Wire have always been concerned with being contemporary and not playing the punk cabaret circuit of their 1977 peers, this drive has kept them pushing forward throughout their lifespan. For the non-Wire fan out their, you’ll need to skip through the muso moments in this story. But if you work collaboratively with others, this book will reveal itself to you as a brave and honest depiction of the realities of ego clashes and mixed agendas, poor communication and assumptions, deliberate obstinance and artistic integrity. And with this, they individually demonstrate a collective sense of what constitutes their aesthetic collective identity, and use this as a measure for what they do and do not allow Wire to do artistically.

Listen to Wire’s latest release, Change Becomes Us, on Soundcloud.

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I received the latest publication from It’s Nice That through the post today, (above), which promises to be a good read over the Easter break. However, one of my pet hates struck me as I flicked through it, (through no fault of INT), is a photo in an article about design studios that features happy designers working on laptops at desks.

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Now I’ve nothing against laptops if used as occasional mobile working machines, or if a desk space is equipped properly to accommodate one. The problem, however, is one of un-ergonomic working environments and the risks that this brings to the user of suffering repetitive strain injury (RSI) at some point in their future careers. And it isn’t just the small studios supplying desk space for interns and freelancers that seem to not notice this is a problem, as a picture in the same issue of Printed Pages shows Stefan Sagmeister works like this as well:

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And the trouble is, you see this sort of photo time and time again, and the issue never gets mentioned. Look, lots of happy designers working together in a ‘cool’ creative space, (photo below from It’s Nice That’s website):

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As someone who suffers from RSI, I have to be very careful about how I work. I never use a mouse anymore, as I worked out that much of my problem had come from a combination of poor posture for long hours while drawing in Illustrator using a mouse. That, and being hunched over a laptop at a desk in a previous job. Now, my home studio set up and my day job set up are designed exactly the same, with a Trackbar that I use to scroll and click with my left hand, and a Wacom tablet for cursor control with my right hand.

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I came to this set up through my employer, University Campus Suffolk, organising a work station assessment by a company called Posturite who gave some great advise about how I should work. Properly adjusted chairs, the angle of your back, arms and legs are all important factors as well, as important in fact, as taking regular breaks.  I also use voice recognition software for when I have to do a lot of writing. These measures, along with physiotherapy when RSI first reared its ugly head in 2009, have kept me working efficiently and not having to have time off because of the problem.

But I worry about future designers over reliance on laptops and poor work station set ups who aren’t aware of the issues. It makes me wince every time I see such a photograph of a ‘cool’ studio space that I know my students would love to work in once they graduate. I now include a health and safely lecture in one of my first year modules, which I know is not a sexy issue, but then neither are shooting pains in your arms or numbness in your fingers, and a depressing sense that you will never be able to do the job you love again.

Please note: this post is in no way meant as a criticism of It’s Nice That, these sort of photos are prevalent throughout the design media.

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