Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Made in England

I've had these videos hanging around for a bit of time but I suppose now is a good a time as any to feature them. The series titled Made in England was filmed for manufacturing firms Davey Lighting and Original BTC at their metal works in Birmingham and show how some of their traditionally crafted light fittings are made. Even if you aren't interested in the end product, you'll know doubt like to ogle at the metal and glass works in action.

Watch all the videos on LightingMatters.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The seventies teaches us what a computer is

A colleague of mine brought this lovely little book published by Ladybird into the office this week.  Titled The Computer and from a series which I presume intended to tell children how different complicated things work. Goodness knows how it's meant to be for children, look at all the code and diagrams they are being told to learn!

Many of the things the book writes about still apply today, but it's interesting to think that when they're talking about storage sizes they are talking about KB and entire rooms and when they're talking about speeds, they are speeds that would probably make you cry with despair and crawl into a corner now.

And the pictures are great, other than being wonderfully seventies, they really make the comparisons between then and now so positively clear.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Faceless Banker

This shot came up in my Twitterfeed yesterday evening and I was immediately struck by its simplicity yet it so strikingly says so much about the current predicaments of our time.

"Future Penguin Modern Classics cover" @Mattleys proclaimed as he retweeted the photo.

The eerie image of the non-descript banker with "old London" behind him - the lamp-post, the towering white stoned building - was taken by London-based documentary photographer Darrell K Morris.

I caught up with him to learn a bit more about the image which he took late last summer whilst photographing a demo in Trafalgar Square...

"It was taken outside the National Gallery after a storm. I take a lot of street scenes and had been sheltering from said storm whilst photographing the demo," Morris explains. "A group of businessmen were just going past and he was lagging behind."

The image of The Faceless Banker may go on to become the future cover of a Penguin Modern Classic or not, but it definitely says more about modern times than any of those photos of the riots early last summer, or images from the student protests because it doesn't really say anything at all, it is our impression of the times we are projecting onto it, our feelings of the times and after all, those feelings are what we will remember most vividly.

However, I do hope that somehow Penguin do see this and Morris gets that Modern Classics cover, that would be great wouldn't it?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Design within the lines

I've just finished reading Steve Jobs' biography (more on that later probably) and one of the things that shone about his ideas is that he controlled everything about them from the way his designers worked - he left no stage unloved - to the closed systems he created for the consumers who buy his Macs, iPhones and iPads. Everything is controlled and this offers a more efficient, simple and overall enjoyable experience as Jobs controlled the lines within which his designers and consumers could play between - increasing focus, and therefore creativity.

This idea of playing within a set of rules is no new idea, Jobs just took it to the extreme instead of letting other people have free reign to ruin things (*ahem* Microsoft).

Let me tell you a story… In 1934 publisher Allen Lane was returning from a weekend at the Devon home of Agatha Christie (oh, to have a weekend there) and was looking for something to read whilst waiting at Exeter station as you invariably do. Only finding reprints of 19th Century novels, he decided to right the situation as best he could, he was a publisher after all.

Lane decided to create a series of paperback books that would not only be sold in traditional bookshops, they would also be simple and accessibly designed that they could be picked up easily along with your train tickets, food+drink and cigarettes in railway stations, newsagents and anywhere else that wanted to sell them.

But how to make them simple, sellable and instantly recognisable?

Lane insisted the design of the books followed a simple horizontal grid as he considered the covers of illustrated books at the time to be trashy. This simple grid allocated space for the title, author and logo. The designers could eventually do what they wanted, but within the grid so the books stayed unified and recognisable, defining the brand.

The books became Penguin Books and in 1936, having sold three million copies in 12 months became a separate company to Lane's original publishing house. Some were suspicious of Penguin's success:

"Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them," George Orwell.

The penguin design was further tightened by master typographer and graphic designer Jan Tschichold from 1946 onwards. Read about his developments on the Design Museum's website. I'm not going to go into a whole lot of detail about the design of what Penguin became as I just wanted to bring your attention to the idea that a complete end-to-end process can be applied to many things and it always makes things more unified, simpler, better, if you will.

Knowing all this, you can believe that I was very excited to find a box of Penguin Paperback covers from all eras of the company's design history. I found Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in One Box in one of those little shops on the side of Spitalfields Market but I've since found them on Amazon, check them out before they disappear.

I especially like the J.G.Ballard covers below even though they don't really follow the design rules of Tschichold and Lane.

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