Graphic commons: North-east of Ipswich

Distance: 4.2 miles
Steps taken: 9,687
Start time: 09:37
Ground covered: Small town centre, surrounding residential areas and seaside promenade

Any talk of Southwold and psychogeography is duty bound to include a mention of W.G. Sebald’s Rings Of Saturn. I must, however, admit to not being a fan of the book; the tangents and diversions within his writing are too long-winded for me. My drift around Southwold yesterday, as part of my continuing Graphic Commons project, did take me up Gunhill, and past both The Reading Room and The Crown, all of which Sebald discusses in his text. These though, are as much of a mention as Rings Of Saturn will get here.

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Spectacle fodder

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McDonald’s/Cineworld, Ipswich

Yesterday I took my grandson to see the Lego Batman Movie at a cinema complex in town. It was great fun, even if much of the film was a little over the head of the 7 year old boy.

Such cinema complexes aren’t my usual choice of venue for movie going. Several people had warned me about the price of popcorn prior to the visit, and I expected to be marketed at from all angles, so I didn’t think I was going with any illusions. But as much as I enjoyed the film, the experience was sullied by coming away feeling that the boy and I had just been fodder for a slick and well organised advertising industry.

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Uncomfortable post-truths

In discussing 2016 election campaigns with a student recently, I mentioned that to have a true understanding of the topic, it was necessary to research publications that they might not agree with—the Daily Mail, the Express et al. It has to be said that most of the critiques I’ve read of both the EU referendum and American Presidential election campaigns do so from a liberal arts perspective.

In considering this I proffered that, unfortunately, we might have to accept that despite any feelings of abhorrence towards the UKIP Breaking Point campaign, it was in fact a brilliant piece of propaganda on their part.

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Picture source: The Guardian

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The museum of things

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Today I visited the Design Museum in its new Kensington home. Primarily going to see the Design of the Year 2016 show with students, being a big fan of the museum, I was also keen to see how the relocation from Shad Thames had been managed.

There is much in the move to the former Commonwealth Institute building that is impressive. It is an incredible site and there is real drama as you enter the huge atrium and look up at the stunning roof. This drama only expands as you move on up through the floors.

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Context is everything

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Image source: It’s Nice That

There is a feature on It’s Nice That about a supposed trend of nostalgic rebranding in graphic design at the moment. Invited designers discuss the recent Co-op and Natwest make-overs, which both revive previous incarnations of their graphic identities.

AceJet 170 picks up the story, declaring that in the case of the Co-op it isn’t about nostalgia, but that it is simply a good idea, (clinching the argument by citing the ever brilliant Ken Garland). To nail my colours to the mast: I liked the North Co-op rebrand from the off, thinking it a brave idea. Judging by the design press at the time, it was the last thing many would have expected them doing. But I never read it as a complete copy—North had tweaked the identity enough to make it feel contemporary rather than simply a re-run of the past. It is clean, focussed and striped of ad-speak and spin. I felt it represented the Co-op and the ethics they built the business on. In other words, it (re)presented a no-nonsense approach.

But what surprises me most about the It’s Nice That article and what the invited commentators had to say, is that there is no mention of the Co-operative Bank in all of this—how can the Co-op rebrand be discussed without reference to the trouble it got into prior to this visual overhaul? What happened was toxic for the entire brand and had the potential to poison the reputation of the rest of the Co-op’s assets, regardless of whether they were party to the poor practices of its banking wing or not. This was a potential PR disaster for everything else the Co-op did, for it was possible that in the eyes of the public the rest of the organisation as guilty by association, regardless of the fact that each sector runs its own affairs under the Co-op umbrella.

This context is only hinted at on It’s Nice That. In the post, Neil Cummings of Wolff Olins—who knows a thing or two about branding—says such a nostalgic tactic sends the signal that “we’ve lost our way, we’re going back to our roots”. In the case of the Co-op, stating ‘we are going back to our roots’ was something that was necessary to state. It was attempting to re-align what people thought of it with its long held ethical status and the fact that its co-operative business model was at the heart of the organisation. Indeed, this is something that is important to me personally, having been a customer of the Co-operative Bank for many years precisely because of its ethical stance, and as a frequent visitor to my local Co-op food store.

Whether this rebrand was a conscious decision to address these issues or not, the fact that it implicitly harks back to times when the Co-op’s ethics weren’t in question, is an important signifier for the organisation’s identity to make.

 

See previous comments in a post I wrote after visiting a People’s History Museum exhibition in 2014 that celebrated the Co-op, while it was in the middle of its troubles, (scroll to the end of the post for comments on the Co-op).

Bullying tactics

It is not too bold a statement to claim that advertising is designed to interrupt our vision and assert itself into our conscious and subconscious minds. If it didn’t, corporations would not devote huge budgets to it. But recently I have observed a growth online of adverts that actually disrupt host content, in what can only be described as visual bullying. This is no more obvious than on newspaper websites that remain free from subscription.

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Above the mast—a narrow advert banner

Looking at the instances of this dominating behaviour there is a clear hierarchy of worst offenders, with banner adverts being the most benign but none-the-less annoying for the reader. Many people will be familiar with websites jumping up and down while a browser decides what advert is going to be placed in the header. This appears worse on tablets as responsive websites rearrange themselves to suit a specific device. Add to this a slow internet connection, and such visual gymnastics can make a reader abandon before everything has settled down.

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