Here is my review of designer Peter Saville in conversation with music journalist Paul Morley at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Monday 16 September 2013. He discusses meeting Kanye West, working with Manchester City Council, Factory Records and more in a two-hour conversation with Paul Morley. Expect the unexpected! The image is courtesy of Global Design Forum.
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This post consists of a series of short written pieces that offer advice on how to improve your graphic design abilities and build your confidence. It is aimed at potential students of design. This article is interspersed with work from graduates of the Design for Visual Communication (DVC) courses at the London College of Communication (LCC). These graduates are from non-design backgrounds and have studied visual communication for one year. The course is focused on developing skills and confidence in graphic design.
The following three images are taken from Susanna Foppoli’s sketchbook and demonstrate the DVC course concept and research mantra: Document, Experiment, Contextualise and Evaluate.
This post is in response to a discussion thread on Richard Holt’s blog. The discussion centred around an advert Shillington College had placed with the copy line: Learn Graphic Design Fast. Shillington College was established by Andrew Shillington in 1989. He was experiencing difficulty in finding graduates who had the attributes he thought would make them employable. He was seeking people with ‘high-end computer skills, a practical knowledge of design theory and [who] could meet challenging deadlines’. A full-time course at Shillington College lasts three months. It should be noted that I am writing this piece from the context of my knowledge of the mature learner, converting career, who has already studied at undergraduate level.
The publications below are from Valentina Verç, Siobhan Hickey and Philippa Thomas. They are visual summaries of research and development work in a designed form that enables the student to reflect upon their design process and research interests.
Learn Graphic Design Fast
Shillington’s claim of ‘Learn Graphic Design Fast’ is certainly a great provocation and one that has designers and design educators hot under the collar. It also plays into the anxieties that twenty or thirty-somethings often have – the last chance saloon or the last roll of the dice. Maybe if you take this course or that course one’s fortunes will change. It’s the dream every aspiring creative person has. We see it on the talent shows. How do you become ‘better’ and get noticed quickly? At its heart there are some good questions. How fast can someone learn anything? What are the essential principles that need to be learnt? What are the learning and teaching methods that can facilitate this? Where best to study and how much will it cost?
A fundamental skill of graphic design is typography. Typography engages with its form but also attempts to provide text-based information. This exercise is primarily concerned with typographic hierarchy. It uses one typeface with changes of size and weight to gain emphasis for the different parts of the information. These examples are from Linne Jenkin, Peter Carr and Tom Hornby.
A Journey Not a Destination
Design can be defined as a plan or intention before something is produced. In his book ‘What is a Designer’, Norman Potter begins by stating that, ‘every human being is a designer’. Potter elaborates upon this point but it suggests that the potential lies within each of us to communicate visually through design. Potential is the key word – is this a road you want to travel down? For me, design is more a journey than a destination, a process not just an end product. Someone better than I once commented that ‘typography is a lifelong apprenticeship’ – you don’t really ever master it, you pursue it. My design hero, Geoff White, is a good example of someone who has made it a lifelong pursuit and is still grappling with it in his mid-eighties. I do think that the mechanics of typography can be learnt in the first term (approximately three months) on a full-time undergraduate course. Cultural and historical studies should enable you to root yourself in the tradition and continuum of the subject. Learning the software is also very much part of the deal. I believe you can become a functional designer quite quickly though. What is harder is learning design judgement – being critical and selective. You do need the time factor to practice, try things out and experiment. But then be critical. You need to find your attitude as a designer. I think it has to be something you feel and have an emotional connection with. It combines the cerebral with the visceral. It is a lifelong journey and not just three months.
In order to make an informed choice when selecting a typeface, students on the DVC course undertake a project exploring typeface classifications. These examples are by Sateen Panagiotopoulou and Dorota Zurek.
Am I Talented?
Many see design as a talent that is nurtured and not something that is learnt fast. You either have an eye for it or you don’t. The notion of talent is something of an intangible. Talent is described as a natural or innate ability. This might suggest that it is something that can’t be learnt or developed. Universities annually recruit cohorts of students. Despite the selection process it isn’t easy to spot the talent. The person who looks promising in the first year can decline over the next two years. Equally that hopeless case in year one suddenly begins to shine in year three. Who can predict an individual’s trajectory over time? Talent spotting seems a somewhat futile and undesirable activity. Can design be learnt? Yes. Can it be taught? Yes. Is design about the ‘Eureka moment’ or a ‘bolt of lightening’ providing inspiration? No, not always, rarely does inspiration strike out of nowhere. It’s not that random. The design process can be explained and it can be understood. It can therefore be taught and learnt. I have run courses for those converting career or wishing to add design as a complimentary skill to a repertoire of other skills they possess. The desire to learn graphic design might be because it was a first love that lost out under peer or parental pressure when choices were made regarding what subject to study at university. It might have emerged from engaging with design in a related area such as promotions, marketing or information visualisation within employment. Those individuals will have identified their ability and wish to validate and develop that ability through a formal education process.
The visual language and grammar project looks at basic form in the abstract but also how it is perceived in the visual world around us. These examples are provided by Dorota Zurek and Henrietta Ross.
Talent and Success
Many ‘talented’ graduates make the assumption that to be ‘talented’ within your subject is enough. The world will love you for that very fact. Your dream clients will beat a path to your door. Commercial success and talent are not related. Business acumen is a talent in its own right. Not all designers have this as a natural skill. The perception of your talent isn’t a static thing. One educational establishment might lead you to believe that your talent is unquestionable. Another turns that on it’s head. Your first interview at a design agency doesn’t go as well as you expected and dents your confidence in your talent. Fashions change, you might be in one minute and out the next. Design as style can be fickle and your success within a particular idiom fleeting. You can’t give up because the rewards aren’t immediate or circumstances change.
Colour is a fundamental way in which we interpret the world. It has strong cultural, political and social connotations. This project introduces eight aspects of colour theory which enables the students to make sensitive choices when combining colour. The project is in the form of a storyboard for an animation targeted at first year design students. These examples are by Bethany Wood and Margot Lombaert.
Ninety-nine Percent Perspiration
Thomas Edison is attributed with saying that ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’. This suggests that sheer hard work is as important as the chance gift of a talent. David Quay commenting on type design suggests that ‘[it's] one percent greativity (that was a nice mistake)…creativity and ninety-nine percent production’. Edison also said ‘many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up’. Perseverance in the early stages of learning anything is key. My experience of teaching mature students has led me to believe that a highly motivated person who works persistently hard eventually succeeds. It doesn’t require genius or that undefined notion of what talent is. Success though is relative. When I taught at undergraduate level I often defined success when a failing student finally passed. My colleague David Dabner use to award a ‘distance travelled’ prize, not to the highest achiever, but for the student who had come the furthest. Design isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work. More often than not you get it ‘wrong’. It requires perseverance through hours of trial and error.
The information design project enables students to bring together image, colour, typography and structure to convey complex information in an understandable form. In the first example Lizzie Toole analyses the contents of a humble tin of beans. The second example by Siobhan Hickey celebrates 50 years of Bond movies. Each segment represents a film, the green areas are the number of villains killed per film, the red dots – Bond’s amorous conquests. The final example sees Tom Hornby using Processing software to map out data relating to every station and stop in Britain. Imagine if this was an animation showing the growth of Britain’s transport infrastructure over time.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers introduces the ’10,000 hour rule’. This is the minimum number of hours Gladwell claims his case studies put in before becoming successful. His case studies included Bill Gates and The Beatles. Paul McCartney, commenting on Gladwell’s theory states, ‘when you look at a group who has been successful… I think you always will find that amount of work in the background. But I don’t think it’s a rule that if you do that amount of work, you’re going to be as successful as the Beatles’. Type designer David Quay with typical humour quipped: ‘The 10,000 hours for me…does not work, you have to spend your whole life doing it to be better! But there is this moment when you feel competent enough (that was yesterday!)’. Michael Johnson observes on behalf of the design profession that ‘it [success] doesn’t happen over night and short-circuiting the process rarely works’. Whatever your definition of success, it is unlikely that there are any guarantees of quick routes through to that success.
The Professional and Academic Contexts project allows students to examine an aspect of structure related to the urban environment through an A3 publication. Dorota Zurek considered the plight of the Aylesbury Estate in SE17; Jason Aquino looked at how our perception of structure is influenced by lighting conditions; musician Lillias Kinsman-Blake explored sound and the city; and Peter Carr documented the re-appropriation of space by parkour exponents.
Giving yourself the best chance
There are factors that you can put in place which give you a better chance of succeeding: hard work; long hours; personal commitment; motivation; sacrifice; access to good teaching; genuine passion for the subject; learning basic design principles; knowing basic design theory; learning design history; reading about the subject; keeping up-to-date with developments; participating in design events; and attending exhibitions and conferences. Adrian Shaughnessy suggests the following as key qualities for designers: cultural awareness; communication skills; integrity; tenacity; risking failure; and cussedness. His views on tenacity are worth further investigation: ‘this is the ability to keep working at a task until it is right rather than settling for the first idea that appears’. Don’t settle for being just OK. He believes that these attributes are best acquired through ‘living and doing’. You can read all you want and take as many taught lessons as you like but living and breathing design, not as a chore, is how you become a designer. You don’t switch it on and off. Ultimately there are no formulas or tick box menus. It’s a life commitment you make with little guarantee of return. To paraphrase the musician, Robert Fripp, you pay the bill up front before success arrives. It takes faith.
In her final major project Henrietta Ross considers the contemporary form of the book and its ability to mimic aspects of the internet such as hypertext links.
The Ideal Candidate
The graphic design recruitment agency, Represent, asked a number of leading design studios what they looked for in a prospective employee – who was their ideal candidate? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that agencies employ people and not just the portfolio. What is it that makes you unique? Have you studied more than one subject previously. Do you have unusual skills or talents? Can you speak more than one language? How could you target more selectively? If you have studied architecture before visual communication maybe graphic design agencies that have a focus on environmental graphics would be worth consideration. Once you have targeted the agencies you are interested in, research the specifics of the agency you are applying to. Imagine how you would feel if someone had taken the time to find out more about you.
Jason Aquino explores the relationship between nutrition, food types and their relationship to the body’s vital systems. This piece proposes an exhibition with dynamic interaction.
Right Place, Right Time
You can do everything within your control but success still eludes you. There is the element of luck and chance to contend with – the being in the right place at the right time. You can still do something about this. It does mean being outgoing and making an effort. Attend workshops, exhibitions, lectures, etc. Those chance happenings are out there and waiting to happen. Those students of mine that have done this and chanced their luck and spoken to the people who they wanted to work for managed to make a connection. Where there is a genuine connection and you have the evidence to back your interest then your luck might be in. The message is stop hiding behind your computer and get out there and get involved.
Lillias Kinsman-Blake examines how graphic imagery can renew the case for feminism in the 21st century. This iconic image makes the point that America has still yet to see its first female president.
Promote Yourself Online
Are you making the most of free online resources? It takes time for the search engines to find you. Think and plan ahead. Get involved in online discussions. Keep a blog – on the Design for Visual Communication course we often describe a blog as a digital sketchbook. Finished work can be displayed on resources such as Flickr and template websites such as Indexhibit or Cargo Collective. If you are experimenting with moving image why not set up a Vimeo account? All these resources become places that you can point people towards or be discovered on. If you Google yourself, how many times do you come up on the front page?
Festival Director Utkarsh Marwah proposed the use of image projection and interaction as a method of engaging audiences with the content of performances.
Short and intense courses can help in providing a community of like-minded people which is motivating. It can provide you with technical and subject skills. Then you are left with you the individual. I’m fascinated by those that seem to ‘get it’ quite quickly and those that struggle. People just take different amounts of time to absorb information and use it. I do think most people have the capacity to learn and understand design. A ‘good’ teacher should be able to explain in a way that helps the student to understand. You should also be able to look at ‘good’ examples and learn from those by analysing why others think they are good. Colleges help to contextualise this for students by explaining the theory that underpins the practice. This makes you a more informed and rounded designer. It provides you with reference points and a language to articulate your ideas on design.
Oxford graduate, Venetia Thorneycroft reclaimed Freud’s Book Of Dreams for the creative community in a production that Scott House, who produced it, described as the most complicated book ever.
Communities of Practice
The advantage of traditional colleges and universities, such as LCC, is that they have good analogue and digital facilities as well as extensive libraries. You get a very hands-on experience of historical and contemporary processes. They are highly motivating communities of practice. It’s the reason why I teach there. The two courses I run are PgCert and PgDip Design for Visual Communication. We teach the fundamental design principles (visual language and grammar; typography; colour; and information design). We teach design theory alongside, and not separate from, design practice. We take an integrated approach. We teach the necessary research and development methods to engage with the design process. We provide opportunities to apply the learnt skills to conceptual projects. We do this over a year both in part-time and full-time mode. Graduates have gone on to work at places such as Frost, Spin, Browns, Unit Editions, Fallon, Intro, Design Council, Sea Design, BBC and CERN. They have been published, set up their own companies and even opened a shop. You can read about the courses and see student work at the LCC course website. Here’s our 2012 publication. Here’s our 2013 publication.
Dorota Zurek’s project Walking London revisits the notion of psycho-geography and urban exploration within South London.
As to the secret of being good at graphic design. There are no secrets. There are no mysteries. You take the talent you have and work hard. You learn from the lessons of the past and apply these to your present and future. There are no guarantees of success, but I wish you luck, and above all – enjoy the journey fellow travellers.
I studied graphic design at Middlesex Polytechnic (now University). I went to work with my tutor in his studio. I worked freelance and in small to medium size companies. I eventually combined professional practice with teaching. I’ve been lucky to have secured a full-time teaching post at the London College of Communication (LCC). I also assess at the annual ISTD Student Assessments which makes me aware of current design standards amongst students on UK design courses. I run courses for mature students who are converting career. They have a degree in subjects other than graphic design such as molecular genetics, geography, music as well as design related areas such as fashion and architecture. In the spirit of practising what I preach, you can see some of my work on Flickr. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thought for the Week, Michael Johnson
The Ideal Candidate
Learn Graphic Design Fast, Richard Holt
What Makes a Great Designer, Adrian Shaughnessy
Postgraduate Diploma Q&A, Lucinda Borrell
How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, Adrian Shaughnessy
What is a Designer, Norman Potter
Munich ’72 Design Legacy Symposium
University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury, Kent, UK
Friday 29 June 2012
The conference was opened by Kerstin Mey who set the context for the symposium and related exhibition. She reminded us that despite the tragedy perpetrated by the terrorist act against the Israeli athletes, the Munich 1972 Olympics saw the emergence of a ‘trailblazing design’ approach to all aspects of the Olympic visual communication. The Tokyo and Mexico City Olympic games preceding this one had set in motion an expectation that the visual impact of such events should be strong and memorable. For the graphic design teams involved, the design of the Olympic games publicity and information would provide a challenge beyond their known professional experience. These designs would establish what Mey called ‘a correspondence between the past and the present’. Comparisons between 2012 and 1972 would inevitably be made. Kerstin Mey then introduced Ian McLaren who had worked as a member of the Munich Design Team with Otl Aicher and who McLaren referred to as ‘The Boss’.
Ian McLaren and David Nelson (Foster and Partners) in conversation
After a brief introduction from Ian McLaren the first of two films were presented to the symposium. This keynote session showed Ian McLaren in conversation with David Nelson of Foster and Partners Architects. Nelson spoke of many anecdotes related to Otl Aicher suggesting he took a philosophical outlook and was ‘bigger than his base subject’. Foster would often consult with Aicher to discuss ideas in the round – ideas for how signage systems may work or lighting or the floors. Century Tower (Tokyo) and the Sainsbury Centre (UK) were two schemes in particular that Aicher contributed his observations. When discussing the relationship between elements Aicher would talk in terms of ‘intelligent geometry’ suggesting a natural logic to the resolution of architectural features. One of the more provocative comments related to the choice of a certain red for the Bilbao Metro scheme. This was to be the ‘red of a 25 year old woman’ perhaps suggesting an age that is young enough to wear such a colour but old enough to wear it with style. Bilbao exhibited the aspect of intelligent geometry Aicher favoured along with exposed engineering and Aicher’s font Rotis (developed in 1988) for the signage.
Hans Dieter Reichert, Baseline Magazine
Hans Dieter Reichert came to England in 1984 and, inspired by the sparse black and white Boilerhouse Project, enrolled on the Media and Production Design course at the London College of Printing (now Communication). He was surprised to learn more about German design culture here in the UK than he had in his home country. He was taught by Anthony Froshaug and Brian Grimley who instilled in him a love of the modular in design. He also began to understand that design was a combination of emotion and thought. It was in London that his appreciation of Otl Aicher and the Ulm school took hold. Reichert showed a number of images of Aicher’s design office, which was suspended above the ground with a staircase ascending up through the floor. There was a perfect mown path leading from the road to the office. It was whilst mowing his estate that Aicher reversed into the road and collided with a motorbike, which prematurely ended his life.
Aicher had developed a typographic identity for ERCO that not only expressed visually the idea of a lighting company but a coherent brand imbued with ‘soul and spirit’. Aicher saw ‘typography as a servant and not an art form’. He combined diagrams and drawings with typography in a structure that brought all elements (including space) into a formal yet harmonious relationship. The naming of commercial catalogues and books he designed encompassed a philosophical approach. Titles such as Entry/Exit not only spoke of functional portals but a reflection on deeper themes. An illustration of a hand and a grip suggested notions of affordance.
Reichert spoke about the Phaidon book project on Aicher. This began life as the subject of a PhD by Markus Rathgeb entitled ‘Otl Aicher: Design as a Method of Action’. As a PhD, the project was not publishable – Reichert championed its cause with Phaidon and managed to help convert Rathgeb’s text into the first authoritative monograph on Aicher. The publication covered Aicher’s work with Braun, Lufthansa, Munich 1972 Olympics and the Ulm school. Aicher saw design’s context in terms of the environments it would be seen. He saw design as a servant to society and believed in the philosophy of teamwork over the valorisation of the individual designer – the antithesis of what would become the attitude in 1980s Britain. Aicher and his team had a complete understanding of the nuances of the design process. The use of grid structures appeared as if to be, what the design group 8vo would later call, visual engineering.
Ian McLaren and the Ulm School
Ian McLaren was studying at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (now London College of Communication) between 1957 and 1960 at the Back Hill and Stamford Street sites. Here he met and was taught by the distinguished designer and author Richard Hollis. McLaren was looking to further his studies and Hollis recommended the Ulm school in Germany. McLaren had been influenced also by the teaching of Froshaug and had a taste for the modern design emanating from continental Europe. At the same time, Britain, in the form of the Royal College of Art, seemed to be retrospect in its attitude with an inclination towards craft and artists such as Edward Bawden. On his return to London, McLaren began to teach at Ravensbourne. It was whist at Ravensbourne that a call came through from his Ulm classmate Rolf Müller enquiring after his interest in an upcoming job – the Munich 1972 Olympics. McLaren knew of Aicher’s extraordinary ability ‘to persuade clients to go beyond the original intention’ of the job. It was his modus operandi to be proactive with clients. Aicher had gained notoriety through Lufthansa prior to 1972 and with Erco after the Munich Olympics – he’d managed to ‘nurse’ additional books out of these clients. He saw the format of the book as a method of clarifying thoughts about the identity of a company. The titles of these books extended the philosophy of the purpose of the company – identity was ‘more than design’. Ulm had proven to be a hot house of thinking whose influence extended beyond the school’s walls. Reichert and McLaren mused upon the educational differences between the German and UK based approach. Germany was seen as embracing psychology, language and subjects surrounding the discipline. The UK was perceived as being narrow and with students being left to find out for themselves (was this a misunderstanding of the independent learner and the importance of self-direction?). Reichert and McLaren warmed to the notion that graphic design had a relationship to a broader society and was not about individual artistic expression. Graphic design was seen as a subject that should be integrated into an overall service – not something that is imposed or seen in isolation.
McLaren spoke about the handmade nature of the Munich posters. Much of what is assumed to be a photographic technique was painstakingly artworked by hand. This provoked discussion around one of the key differences between 1972 and 2012. Pre-digital era designers would have to trust to their hand far more. Design was more of a physical activity. As part of the Munich 72 Legacy project an exhibition was mounted. Hans Dieter Reichert worked with current students to mount the exhibition and paint onto the walls the supporting graphics.
Visitors to the exhibition were hitherto unaware of the trials and tribulations the students went through with this new experience of working with their hands, at actual size, in a real three dimensional environment. Even hanging pictures at a consistent height provided a challenge. It was good to hear that the mounting of the exhibition had provided an opportunity for young designers to learn from an older generation. Both generations acknowledged that it was the hand that linked the analogue and digital worlds. Aicher’s own development had been influenced by the students and staff who surrounded him at Ulm. At Ulm Albers, Müller-Brockmann and Bauhaus influences could be encountered. He was also influenced by an attendant philosophy of clarity, simplicity and minimalism. McLaren stated that Aicher’s exposure to Albers’ attitude towards colour influenced the colour application used in the Munich Olympics scheme.
Aicher developed the notion of the book as a format for exploration. The structure and wayfinding nature of the book (with chapters) enabled him to break down a company’s structure and consider its identity.
Aicher and ERCO
This part of the symposium was a video interview between Ian McLaren and Klaus J Maack who had previously been a director at ERCO. ERCO is a company that specialises in architectural lighting. Under the design influence of Aicher, ERCO adopted a grid-based scheme with Helvetica as the corporate typeface. Later ERCO was to adopt Rotis as its headline font. The flavour of ERCO’s visual presence was infused by a particular approach to the photography – the perfect medium for evoking the nature of light. The ERCO identity was informed by the approach that had been taken with the Munich Olympics (and by Aicher’s work with Lufthansa prior to 1972 that Maack had been impressed by). The Olympic identity adopted a ‘sunshine’ motif and the Univers typeface which was light and open. Another strong element of the Olympic visual strategy was the use of colour bars within the cultural series of posters evoking the nature of the German landscape. The bars were use to differentiate this series from the sports posters. The idea of what the Olympics could represent through its graphic representation had been growing from the previous Tokyo and Mexico Olympic schemes. The pictographic ‘matchstick men’ had grown from 21 symbols to 180 symbols. ERCO adopted the development of these symbols and eventually they amounted to 900 in total. The cartography (mapping) was another impressive achievement of the Munich games. Posters were presented on panels that were at 90 degrees angles this allowed for colour combinations to be carefully considered and contrasted from one poster to the other. The ‘posterised’ images with their grain effect were largely done by hand requiring extensive and painstaking hand retouching. The cultural posters used the distinctive banding with superimposed pictorial imagery. These posters were to omit the colour black. There was one controversial exception to this – on the Folklore poster McLaren included black eyes. An argument broke out for which Aicher uncharacteristically stepped in to diffuse the situation ruling in favour of this exception. There were further issues regarding the use of English, an Italian from Brooklyn favouring Americanisms and McLaren holding the flag for pure English. Again McLaren’s view won out.
Tony Brook, Spin: Souvenirs and Studio Culture
Tony Brook began by indicating one specific influence Aicher had on his own studio (Spin). Brook has adopted Aicher’s studio psychology of no separate rooms and no private conversations – nothing is hidden. For Brook, as with Aicher, the sign of a healthy studio culture is one where the design of the space promotes openness. For Brook there is little room for the hierarchy of status – this is a refreshingly honest approach against the backdrop of a title obsessed design and design education ethos. Brook made reference to and commended the philosophical writings of Aicher and in particular ‘The World as Design’. He cited Aicher as someone who didn’t take the mere title or qualification of someone too seriously. You were either a graphic designer or not. In the 1980s, titles within the profession and design education proliferated. It was no longer enough to be a designer you had to be a ‘middle weight designer’. Within higher education a new strata of management positions have promoted those with an ambition for status without much subject or teaching credibility. They have a worrying amount of power over a discipline and profession they seem to have little regard for. Brook has no time for this nonsense: ‘are you a designer or not?’. Anyone who puts ‘rank before responsibility’ (and there are plenty career minded people who do) should be approached with some caution as to their real motivation in life. In the past subject specialists such as FHK Henrion and Tom Eckersley ran departments that they had some subject and business knowledge of. Eckersley insisted on interviewing all staff and students who applied to join the department. FHK Henrion created courses that were fit for purpose, relevant and based on his lifetime of industry experience. All staff had to have subject credibility. Fred Lambert, educator, editor of Typos and typeface designer proposed an all staff exhibition of work entitled ‘Exposé’. How many of us would fare under the critical treatment of Lambert’s suggestion? Although the 1980s may have seen the rise of the self-important celebrity designer, there were those that resisted such hollow vanities. The design department at Esprit produced business cards with no job titles – ‘it was hoped that this might serve to provoke thinking about the nature of the work one did rather than the status that titles often convey’. Forty years on, the efforts of the Munich designers to prioritise up-to-date and correct information over their own talent is a salutary reminder to a new generation of designers in 2012. Again Mason Wells’ comment that there is no room for the ‘arrogance of youth’ in design rings true. Brook continued on a lighter note to provide the audience with a historical overview of the ‘below the line’ Olympic souvenirs – beer mats, bottle tops, matchboxes and bathrobes all available for the collector of Olympic paraphernalia. The most notable of the Munich souvenirs was the dachshund mascot, Waldi. And the lucky winner of the Munich Olympic themed bedroom is…Tony Brook’s own daughter – lucky girl!
Lucienne Roberts: When Lucie met Otl
Lucie set about establishing her connections to Otl Aicher via a projected wall of visual symbols, which grew in number as she developed her historical overview. Lucie was very much influenced initially by her father’s involvement in design. For Ray Roberts, design was more than packaging the post-war burgeoning boom in capitalism. Design could be a force for good and typography embodied literacy as power. Lucie’s mum was from Vienna where Marie and Otto Neurath developed their Isotype series. Although not directly linked, Lucie made a mental connection between the Isotype scheme and the pictographic language of successive Olympic games. The Munich pictographic scheme was developed by Gerhard Joksch, based on the Tokyo symbols and the sculptor’s armature figure. Through exposure to the Bauhaus and Ulm schools amongst other influences, which also included the British designer and historian Richard Hollis, Lucie developed a taste for the Modernist approach in her own work. The systematised use of typography on a backdrop of modular grid structures and a rationalised use of colour permeated her early work. This wasn’t applied in a dogmatic fashion rather it was tailored ‘in support of the material of others’. There was also the concern for the visual environment and awareness that design could have a secondary role – that of public art, and the street had the potential to be a museum of information.
Mason Wells: Work as Life
Wells provided us with an overview of his development as a designer through various agencies who were known for their appreciation of a certain type of Modernism. Wells had nurtured his taste for Modernist artefacts through his time at Cartlidge Levene, Farrow and North and had the opportunity to put into practice this inherited knowledge. An image of Aicher cycling around the then new Olympic track sparked in Wells the notion of immersing yourself in your work. Design was something that didn’t constrain you to the usual 9-5 job – ‘The World is Design’. Whilst Bibliothéque was in its formative period, Wells had the opportunity to acquire a collection of Munich 72 printed items. So inspired by this acquisition, his partner Jonathon Jeffrey, suggested that an exhibition was the logical conclusion. Mason spoke of Aicher as a conduit for the success of his clients. The books that he’d produce with his clients were a method of recording research and design philosophy in print and making this manifest for the benefit of others.
The contrast in German and British standards within design education had been raised previously as a topic for discussion. Inevitably with the composition of this panel (McLaren, Reichert, Roberts, Wells and Brook – all who have experience of the profession and education), it would emerge again. Concern was raised over the undefined notions of what UK students and educators see as ‘creativity’. Wells and Brooks encouraged a more holistic view where the technical and creative are considered in equal measures. Brook in particular reflected upon his company’s increase in employment of non-UK designers in recent years. Could there be something deficient in current UK design education? With all the ‘advances’ in quality assurance, learning and teaching theory and insightful management what could possibly have gone wrong? Perhaps there are lessons from the past that could be applied to the future – perhaps there are still principles worth adhering to. There are some students and educators who do recognise this. Each year high standards are maintained through the annual International Society of Typographic Designers’ (ISTD) student assessment. There were a number of ISTD members and educators in the audience who will reflect upon these thoughts. Unfortunately there were few students in attendance, possibly because it was the end of term, possibly because the venue was outside of London, but this was disappointing all the same.
There was discussion around whether the graphic scheme for 2012 developed by Wolff Olins was indeed a worthy effort in terms of the legacy of past design. Many thought it had suffered from the ‘design by committee’ approach mixed up with a rather middle-aged view of what ‘designing for the kids’ meant. Concern was expressed as to whether, still in the UK, there is a lack of respect for the designers’ role and the value of design. The panel overall thought the current graphic scheme was rather conservative and lacking in the role of chance. It is possible to combine the necessary order that information design requires with a sense of humanity that communication demands. The Munich Olympic graphic scheme will perhaps be remembered for engaging the spirit through its exuberant imagery and informing through a controlled system of typography. The stubbornness of Aicher in maintaining a high and consistent standard of design with his team has earned the respect of subsequent practitioners. The scheme established 40 years ago has proven to have enduring appeal and acts as a key reference point for the future.
Some of my students made a trip to see the related exhibition and commemorated their day with a poster design celebrating the food-based joys of being a tourist. The first image is by Henrietta Ross and the second by Sharon Mah.
Here is my articled published in ISTD Condensed. It is primarily about my experience of assessing at the annual International Society of Typographic Designers’ Student Assessment. The article does cover why students struggle with the design process and what they can do in resolving their projects more successfully.
During the 1980s and 1990s I was part of a collaborative design practice called Root 2 Design. Root 2 comprised Peter Gill (founder), Heleen Franken, Geoff Haddon and myself. Root 2 provided consultancy to the arts, design, commercial, professional and financial sectors. Geoff Haddon and myself subsequently took up posts within the UK Higher Education sector. Peter and Heleen moved to the lake district and continued the practice until recently. The newly launched website archives the work of the group and provides an insight into its design attitude.
This is a cautionary tale about an obsession with grids