Insidiousness

In response to the worldwide epidemic of COVID-19 there is an inevitability to the words …And Wash Your Hands, replacing …And Carry On, as the coda to Keep Calm and Carry On posters. Given that news of the spread of the virus has the ability to produce widespread panic, any populist measures to get health messages across to stem a pandemic should be welcomed. However, on any mention of that original poster, I can not help but be reminded of its insidious nature.

For those unfamiliar with the origin of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, it was meant to be kept in storage and only rolled out across Britain in the event of a Nazi occupation. The premise being that we should all accept our new rulers and maintain the British notion of ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’, and simply get on with our daily lives. As an avowed anti-fascist, such a sentiment is an anathema to me.

Just how insidious the original Keep Calm poster is, was bought home to me last week when listening to Cerys Matthews interview the children’s book author Michael Rosen on her Sunday morning BBC 6music show. He was discussing his book The Missingin which he investigates his family history and those members of it who went missing during the Second World War from occupied countries, and specifically France. He recounted the tale of coming across police reports that detailed how officers of the French Gendarmerie went to his father’s uncle’s house in 1944, at 2:30 in the morning, and removed his great uncle in order to hand him over to the Nazis. He had committed no crime—he was arrested simply for the sole reason that he was Jewish.

Rosen spoke about what troubled him the most was the legality of the situation, and how these officers where just following orders. While the holocaust was an illegal act, like many other Nazi atrocities, what happened in the early hours of that morning in 1944 was legal. Given that Rosen’s relation was deported and never seen again, he goes on to say that even though the police were carrying out their duty, they were in fact conspirators to murder. This, in effect, was the French police keeping calm and carrying on. (You can listen to Michael Rosen talk about The Missing on 6music via this link—starts at around the 01:10:40 mark.)

It made me ask myself, as I listened to Rosen’s words, how the same story would have played out in Britain had we become occupied by Nazis in the 1940s. With people following the advice of keeping calm and carrying on, I suspect exactly the same would have happened. Such a depressing thought made me wonder if the poster really needs an additional line of bracketed text to make it more accurate and alert people to its insidious nature: Keep Calm and Carry On, (unless you happen to be Jewish, a gypsy, homosexual, a communist, or any other ‘undesirable’ deemed in need of eradication from society under fascist ideology, in which case you need to be very wary of a knock on the door in the middle of the night and of those who you might think are there to protect you).

Not so catchy though, is it!

A question of signs

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A couple of weeks ago I took the above picture at Felixstowe docks, finding it interesting to see a group of signs in what appeared to be a holding pen, waiting to be distributed as need-be around the busy port. After editing the image to post to Flickr at the weekend, I wondered what the collective noun was for a collection of signs, so I posted the simple question to Twitter. Below are some of the excellent replies I got.

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@gray was the first off the mark with a reference to the Signs director:
A Shyamalan of signs.

Several took the theme of the communication problems of a lot of signs in one place, including: A confusion… (@Skipratmedia); A concussion… (@Johnctarpey); A directionless… (@zimboguide); An obscuration… (@mayhematics); An assault… (@Lestaret); A cacophony… (@peter_p_light): A confusion… (@Unionbuilt); and one of my favourites along these lines; A squabble… (@ZCDunnett).

On a theoretical level, A semiotic… makes sense, (@semajrabnud). That is if it wasn’t more suited to a collection of signals.

A directory… (@SuchAndSuchDes); A tell… (@MrBoyce); and A trail… (@thepublicartco) all nicely chime with signage’s purpose.

Given their upright nature, A forest… fits visually, (@jrooneyresearch), and this was confirmed as a term used in Germany, or rather ‘Schilderwald’, which translates as ‘a forest made from signs’, (@StefanH145).

However, the one that I think is probably gets the prize, if there was a prize, is simply: A shitload… . Thanks to @JulianDGomezZ, a genuine laugh out loud from me for that response.

Thanks to all who have given some excellent suggestions so far, there are far too many to mention here, (especially if you go sideways and look at the replies to retweets). To follow the post, click here.

And thanks to Justin Hopper for pointing me in the direction of this:

The times they are a-changin’

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I recently wrote here about frustrations I was having with how my iPhone displayed album sleeves on its Music app. Since then I’ve been somewhat forced to sign-up to Apple Music to get over this, (and other), issues with the app. In doing so it feels like I have made a major shift in some of my long-held behaviours; this is not just in regard to how I listen to music, but also to my relationship with music visuals.

In discussing this personal cultural change to how I ‘buy’ and own music over on A Different Kitchen, I pondered whether I had bought my last CD in pre-ordering Wire’s forthcoming release Mind Hive prior to signing up to Apple Music. Since then, I have bought other music physically, but these haven’t been for my usual choices of wanting better sound quality when I listen to certain artists, (a CD on a good stereo is, to my ears, is far superior than a download), but because these recordings were not available via Apple. 

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The Fundamentals of Graphic Design

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It was an honour to have my revision of The Fundamentals of Graphic Design published by Bloomsbury recently.

It was a daunting job to take on, given how good the original edition by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris was. Early on I decided I didn’t want to radically alter vast amounts of what they had written—after all, most of the fundamentals haven’t changed. However, given the advances in technology since the first edition, it was clear my main job was to make sure the title reflected contemporary design contexts. In my first research sessions for the title in 2017, it was interesting to note that in 2009 when The Fundamentals of Graphic Design was first published, it came out only one year after Apple’s App Store first opened its digital doors. It was also one year before the iPad was released and Instagram had been heard of, (both 2010). I quickly established there were some important revisions needed.

There have been many other changes elsewhere in our industry: font files are now universal across operating systems; brand guidelines have gone digital with many now having dedicated websites; and audio and visual entertainment is streamed ‘on-the-go’ as physical media and TV schedules become a lesser part of people’s everyday lives. There has also been an explosion in niche publishing. However, possibly one of the biggest contextual shifts is that social media is a very different beast now than it was a decade ago, (remember MySpace anyone?), and as a result, how graphic designers market themselves and their clients has changed forever.

I cannot thank everyone at Bloomsbury enough for all the support they gave me in revising Fundamentals, as well as to all who agreed to provide new images. I am particularly grateful to O Street for artworking images of their website especially for a feature I wanted to include on them; and to Lawrence Woolston, head Arts technician at University of Suffolk, for helping me with some studio photography. Most of all though, I would like to thank Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris for producing such an excellent text and structure for the book in the first place.

The Fundamentals of Graphic Design: Second Edition was published in October 2019, and was featured as one of five recommended reads in Creative Boom‘s Books For November.

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Copies can be purchased directly from Bloomsbury in a variety of formats. Follow this link for more details.

 

Mainly Museums: PHM

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I was honoured to be asked to write something for the Mainly Museums website recently, and decided very quickly that it would be good to champion Manchester’s Peoples History Museum, (PHM), on the site. My choice was influenced by the fact PHM tells its story through the graphic accoutrements of political activity; from trade union banners to posters, from badges to membership cards, from propaganda leaflets to magazine covers. This visual telling brings the story alive of the fight for social justice, not just in the North of England, but across the UK and internationally. I would urge anyone to visit should they be in the area.

The article itself is an expanded rewrite of a Field Readings’ post I wrote about the People’s History Museum after I visited many years ago. The new version was first published on Mainly Museums website in July 2019.

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My iPhone hates me

I think my iPhone hates me, it has recently been swapping the album artwork of one band for another.

This is very much a first world problem, I know. But it does feel very personal. My phone, for all its ‘smartness’, must know how important graphic design and music are to me. I use the Music app everyday of the week to listen to new and old sounds on my walk to work. I post and read about graphic design on many social media apps and blogs I follow just as often. My phone won’t know that it was album sleeves that got me into graphic design in the first place, but there are obvious clues. So forgive me if I feel aggrieved. 
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In the above screenshot of the ‘Recently Added’ section of the Music app, you can see the sleeve for the Birdman OST replacing what should be Gaye Su Akyol’s recent release. Likewise, a Peter Perrett album becomes Creep Show’s Mr Dynamite, while Dead Rat Orchestra become David Byrne and Kaddal Merrill becomes Young Fathers.

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Aesthetics of convenience

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In the first of a series of publications that investigate different aspects of the graphic commons, Aesthetics of Convenience explores the vinyl window displays of convenience stores. Through a photographic and textual discussion of how these ‘little and often’ shop window displays affect human behaviour and environmental ambiences, the paper seeks to encourage a discussion about the visual culture of public spaces, as imposed on those that live in, or pass through them.

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Published as a 20 page numbered limited edition tabloid newspaper, Aesthetics of Convenience brings together my own explorative photographs taken on numerous dérives, and a 1250 word essay which pieces together my thoughts when out traversing the graphic commons.

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Aesthetics of Convenience is published as a limited edition of 100, and costs £3, (plus £2 postage in the UK, and £5 postage everywhere else). To buy a copy, follow the Paypal link, leaving your name and postal and email addresses in the notes section when paying: PayPal.me/paynigelball

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