Graphic commons: dérive of convenience

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After fog stopped two previous attempts at more walks for my Graphic Commons project, I finally managed to get out again today. Thankfully, despite weather reports of fog in this region, Ipswich seemed to be unaffected.

The project has moved on somewhat since I did the Easternmost onshore drift walk, as I have now categorised many of my photographs from my previous dérives. As Graphic Commons develops, it has turned into themed observations of different categories I have identified within graphic design, with each forming the focus for separate chapters in a bigger book I am planning; the overarching context being how graphic design inserts itself into our everyday shared environments.

Today’s walk was primarily in search of convenience stores on the peripheries of Ipswich town centre as I’ve become interested in vinyl graphics and the product shots that adorn these ‘little and often’ shops’ windows, and how these crude and often very similar graphics affect the ambience of a location. As with my previous posts about these drifts, I’m logging some of these photographs here as a record of the walk rather than as any finished outcome.

Walk duration: 4.6 miles
Steps taken: 10,639
Start time: 08:15
Ground covered: Town centre peripheries

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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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Graphic commons: Easternmost onshore drift

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I completed another Graphic Commons walk this week, and I chose a location I’m not overly familiar with: Lowestoft—the Easternmost point in Britain. Like other Graphic Commons posts here, this serves as an immediate document of my drift, and the photos, (only crudely edited at this stage), will feed into a write-up of the walk I plan to do soon. The writing that accompanies the photos will form a key part of any final outcome, but for now I won’t be posting what I write on Field Readings as that aspect is very much a work in progress.

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Walk duration: 2.7 miles
Steps taken: 6,077
Start time: 09:17 (train from Ipswich)
Ground covered: Town centre and side streets onto a main road that divides the town from port. Then on to the Ness, the most Easterly point, and back into town via an industrial area and what is known locally as a ‘score’—a narrow alleyway.

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Graphic commons: peripheral visions

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Continuing my research into our Graphic Commons and how graphic design inserts itself into shared environments, this morning I set out on a traverse around Ipswich town centre, deliberately avoiding its main thoroughfares. I was very much keeping to its peripheries.

The photos I took will feed into later writings for this ongoing project, but for now, I’m posting a small selection here to capture the moment.

Walk duration: 4.8 miles
Steps taken: 11,055
Start time: 07:37
Espresso stop: 08:45
Ground covered: Streets surrounding Ipswich’s working port, then skirting its town centre on little-used back streets and cut-throughs. On to an edge of town eatery and entertainment complex/car park, before returning via main roads that feed into Ipswich town centre.

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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).