Proposing the Graphic Commons

Proposing the Graphic Commons
A Field Readings Publication | Nigel Ball | August 2017
Numbered—edition of 300
10pp | 134 x 300mm
1750 word text | 7 full-colour photographs

ProGC

This pamphlet introduces the term Graphic Commons as an identifier with which to discuss graphic design within shared public environments. It sets out why a new linguistic term in contemporary graphic design discourse is required, and situates this as part of wider discussions surrounding urbanism and social responsibility.

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Festival of Britain benches

I have had a fascination with the Festival of Britain since I came across one of its guidebooks several years ago and wrote an article about it for Eye magazine’s blog. In my day job I have also had the pleasure of hearing Abram Games’ daughter, Naomi Games, talk to students about her father’s work, (for the uninitiated, it was Abram Games that designed the FoB logo). Further to this, I have a keen interest in modernist design principles, and in particular the work of the Design Research Unit who played a key role in the planning and organisation of the 1951 Festival. It is therefore not surprising that when driving through the Lincolnshire village of Barnetby Le Wold while on holiday with my wife recently, that my eye caught sight of the familiar logo. However, the fact it was set into the concrete of a bench by a very busy roundabout was probably the last place I expected to see it.

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The famous logo—the right hand rendering has faired better in the weather than the left

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To Hull and back

In October last year I wrote about the visual identity for Hull City of Culture 2017. I’d mostly only ever heard negative things about the city but vowed to go there this year after seeing this deliberately attention grabbing piece of branding. Claire and I duly booked our summer holiday in the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds for last week so that we could take a day out in Yorkshire, and Hull did not disappoint.

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Graphic Commons: pavement notes

I took a dérive to work the other day and came across road work annotations on the pavement. I’ve seen these many times before, and often photographed them, but yesterday’s discovery prompted me to pull the more interesting images together in one place. When cropping some of these square, the reference to Mark Boyle and the Boyle Family‘s work is obvious to see.

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Run / ? / Tell

In the aftermath of the recent horrendous Manchester and London terrorist attacks, I was puzzled by the imagery used to accompany a new police warning advising people to RUN, HIDE and TELL if they should find themselves in the midst of such a situation.

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Seeing this for the first time on the Channel 4 news, it puzzled me as to exactly what the middle image was. In focusing on trying to decode the visual I didn’t really read the word sitting beside it. As a result, I had to stare at the paused picture for some time before I saw what it was supposed to be—someone peeping out from behind an object. Before this realisation, my mind pictured it as a distorted question mark. In this, I also became aware that because of my confusion I was unwittingly put in the position of someone who didn’t read English, making the visual communication more important.

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Of course, deliberate ambiguity has a place in graphic design. In using negative space, the work of illustrator Noma Bar, or the classic of the genre, the Fed Ex arrow, are perfect examples of how duality in an image can captivate an audience and engage them intellectually. Once decoded, the viewer’s ego is massaged that they have ‘got it’. More importantly though—once seen, the previously hidden image can not be unseen, and this reinforces the message.

Now too, with the Run Hide Tell images, I cannot not see what the HIDE image is meant to be. But with that initial questioning of what I was looking at, my visual perception was confused. The fact that it took me a while to decode the image brings to question its effectiveness in a situation no one wants to find themselves in. In just such an instance, visual ambiguity is the last thing anyone needs.