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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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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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.

 

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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