Mainstream discussions on graphic design

Mainstream media doesn’t often do graphic design, and when it does it rarely does it seriously. Preference is more often given over to art, architecture, interior design, photography and fashion.

On the odd occasion when an appropriately critical article does appear, (one that does not claim that the journalist’s 6 year old daughter could have done a better job at designing a logo), then graphic design as a discipline is not mentioned. Take this report from November 2019 about Facebook’s rebrand, which covers the topics of typography, colour, semiotics and visual identity. In the post’s category tags, technology and business are mentioned, but graphic design and typography are not. Articles around this time from the same publication about art and architecture did have accompanying discipline tags.

It was therefore refreshing to read a serious discussion in The Observer last weekend about the government’s visual approach to imparting important information to the public about Covid-19: The UK government’s coronavirus strategy: shoddy by design?

Interviewing Simon Esterson, art director and co-owner of Eye Magazine, and Eliza Williams of Creative Review—two of the most prominent graphic design publications in Britain—the piece discusses how UK government sanctioned visuals fail in communicating their desired message, and at times, send mixed messages.

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Newsprint isn’t dead, yet

Just before lockdown I had several conversations with colleagues and students about whether newspapers would survive Covid-19. At the prospect of newsagents and train stations closing for months on end, and assuming these are the prime retailers for newspapers outside of people having them delivered, I predicted the situation could be devastating for printed journalism. As people who are used to consuming their news through inkies are forced to switch to app and online counterparts, I wondered whether they would ever go back to print, post-pandemic.

Despite the fact that printed papers aren’t financially sustainable in the modern age anyway, and tend to only survive due to backers—whether wealthy media moguls or through supporter sponsorship—if their audience does shift its consumer habits then there is only so much money a publisher will throw at a loss leader.

If there is to be any saviour for news in printed form, it is likely to be due to graphic design and the impact a well considered layout with a strong concept can bring to the reader experience. If an example is needed, then you need look no further than The New York Times. In March it used playful typography to effectively illustrate an article about social distancing with circles of space created around the typography.

Wondering About Social Distancing? in print. Image: The Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas
Wondering About Social Distancing? online. March 2020

In looking at how the article appears online, there is no comparison in regard to visual impact. In the printed examples, even without reading the text the narrative is still delivered. Given there is something of the petri dish in this circular depiction, an additional layer of subconscious messaging is added that it is difficult to reproduce in templated girds used for websites. Because they are updated on a regular basis throughout the day, there is less room for such sites to be playful with the text itself. That’s not to say apps and webpages can’t be inventive, far from it, but user engagement is more likely to be delivered via stand-alone animated / interactive content and video that sits alongside the story.

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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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The Guardian is dead, long live The Guardian

Today sees the last copy of The Guardian in its Berliner format.

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What is about to follow will be known by those that come to this blog post after Monday 15 January 2018, when the new look Guardian is launched. But for now, only the new masthead has been revealed in a video teaser.

The teaser, and its corresponding print campaign, demonstrates some interesting references to John Stezaker covering found photographs with white squares, (and Jonathan Barnbrook’s subsequent ‘borrowing’ of this for David Bowie’s The Next Day), see Field Readings’ post Graphic obscura.

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The campaign cleverly suggests that The Guardian will still reserve space for commentary and opinions that tend not to be heard in other areas of the mainstream media, (with maybe the exception of the Channel 4 News). This, I believe, is the result of a sense of responsibility the paper feels to report accurately and critically in the face of an otherwise largely right-wing and conservative media. Its investigative journalism has broken some of the most important and disruptive news stories of the last decade, from Milly Dowler to Panama Papers. In these supposed post-truth times, long may this continue.

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The definitive article

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The Guardian have done it again in creating dynamic and impactful graphics to carry a story.  But then I would have been disappointed had the triggering of article 50 for the formal start of Brexit been visualised by the paper in anything less than a dramatic style.

While I have some sympathy with some design criticism on Twitter about a jigsaw being an overused metaphor, I think this doesn’t give credit for the colour treatment making it look like a forgotten 1950s puzzle found in a charity shop. This helps to give the concept greater credence in relation to Brexit. That, and the exaggerated staggering of the typography to form an approximation of the shape of the British Isles. This in itself is a mark of typographic brilliance.

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