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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Constitutionals

Since I wrote Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives, I have started to upload photos taken on my daily #coronawalks to a dedicated Instagram feed called Constitutionals.

It features much more of a variety of observations than just the graphic or typographic, as written about here, and is more typical of my usual Instagram feed. Depending on the amount of photographs I take, and my post-walk editing decisions, each addition has so far ranged from one to 21 photos. However, as Instagram restrictions only allow you to add a maximum of 10 photos in any one post, several days have multiple entries.

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Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives

Making the most of the ‘sanctioned’ time I am allowed out to exercise during the UK government’s coronavirus pandemic ‘lockdown’, I have been drifting through my neighbourhood on a daily basis for the last week. Despite the awkwardness of swapping sides of the road every time I see someone coming in my direction, this has allowed me to visually re-engage with the Graphic Commons of this area of east Ipswich.

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I know these streets well from the many dog walks my wife and I have done around our locale. Or so I thought. However, with our dog a year gone, and in more recent years him being so lethargic with age we tended to take him for less lengthy walks, it appears I have either become unfamiliar with some aspects of my surroundings, or simply never spotted them in the first place. So now, under circumstances I would not choose, I have been conducting observational research on the visual culture of my immediacy.

As would be expected, the start of my walks tend to have some degree of planning; at least in respects to me deciding what direction I am going to head in before I close the front door behind me. From then though, I make my decisions on a whim—that whim is often influenced by whether there appears to be too many people for my liking walking in one particular direction—and I drift the streets based on instinct and the random thoughts that themselves drift through my mind.

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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’

Music

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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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.

It is annoying not just because of the misrepresentation, but because I use the images for searching for the albums I want to listen to. I know this as a way of looking for music could be deemed outmoded, but that is how I operate my technology and I’m sure many others do too.

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Graphic commons: Tunnel and peripheral vision

Distance: 3.7 miles
Steps: 8113
Start: 06:25
Ground covered: Feeder roads into and out of Ipswich town centre; pedestrianised shopping precincts; town centre.

Compilation

It has been a while since I last did a dedicated graphic commons walk; 2017 in fact. More recent graphic commons posts have mainly been about walks taken as part of other activities. This reengagement is due to the resurrection of a graphic commons project that was put on-hold a few years ago—that of a series of publications dedicated to specific categories of the commons as I see them. The other commitments that took precedent over that project have now been completed, and it seems like a good time to jump back in. I will post more news here soon as it develops, but for now, here is a more generalised document of yesterday’s dérive.

Mecca

The walk’s territory is very familiar to me, and picks up from two I conducted in 2016, peripheral visions and dérive of convenience. Although the walk was specifically to record more convenience store window displays, of which I got plenty, other categories presented themselves to me, with abundance: vinyl banners, telephone booth adverts, fly posters, etc. Ipswich, it appears, is the graphic commons gift that keeps on giving. While the delivery mechanisms themselves hadn’t changed much, some of the graphics had.

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Graphic commons: Bucharest, a bohemian rhapsody

Recently I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to Bucharest, Romania, for work. The trip was so that I could attend an art and design education fair and to talk at a couple of high schools about our courses. This was my first such recruitment trip abroad, and I’m told you often only get to see a city from a car window and in the evening before flying back the next day. Thankfully though, because of the timings of our itinerary, I managed to get a little time to myself to wander the city and soak up Bucharest’s visual culture.

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This was my first visit to Eastern Europe, and one, given the timing of the trip, that was over-shadowed by Brexit. Our host, locals and delegates from other countries all had an opinion, with none of them positive. The majority of Romanians I spoke to about it, (and Romania isn’t a country afraid of change, it could be argued), all thought Britain was putting itself in a ridiculous position.

One of the things that struck me about Bucharest from the outset, was that it is a country that is happy to wear its history on its sleeve—it is there in plain sight for everyone to see. Our hotel was very close to Revolution Square, the site of the uprising that saw Nicolae Ceaușescu toppled from power nearly 30 years ago.

Monuments to these tumultuous times have seen better days, and the local anarchists appear to show little respect for those that lost their lives fighting against the dictator. Some locals said the current government is the most corrupt in 100 years, so it appears a struggle continues. Given we were a week away from national celebrations of 100 years of independence for Romania, this is some claim given their more recent history.

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Graphic commons: analogue community

Lostwithiel, Cornwall, (affectionately known as Losty by the locals), was the nearest town on our recent summer holiday.

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As I have mentioned in a previous post I have an interest in noticeboards, and Lostwithiel has not one, but two that I could find. What struck me more than this though was that 2 noticeboards did not seem to be enough for its towns-folk. For on our first proper wander around Losty, every single telegraph-pole seemed to be adorned in posters of varying quality and displaying a cornucopia of events and information. These flyposters didn’t seem to be an alternative to what was on the ‘official’ noticeboards—in fact, it looked like there was a lot of repetition.

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Graphic commons: Oxford streets

For many, traipsing historic academic cobbles and starring at spires, let alone dreaming of them, would define any visit to Oxford. For me, on a family weekend there recently, it was an opportunity to study its graphic commons.

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Looking for its vernacular, I mostly steered clear of high-street parades, and came away finding the city’s contradictions being easy bedfellows; hi and lo culture mix comfortably, on the streets at least. Testament to this are the highbrow events flyposted on chipboard, acting as a temporary hoardings for college concerts where no sacred wall can be damaged.

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These sat just around the corner from the usual tattered pastings I more typically photograph. Technically the same in purpose and application, each arguably despoiling/enhancing the streets, depending on your point of view. The only difference being that those on chipboard could be moved out of sight quickly. While on display though, from a visual perspective, they are exactly the same.

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Pockets of resistance were also visible. Some philanthropically recognised, others unofficially bubbling up from the underground.

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