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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Festival of Britain benches

I have had a fascination with the Festival of Britain since I came across one of its guidebooks several years ago and wrote an article about it for Eye magazine’s blog. In my day job I have also had the pleasure of hearing Abram Games’ daughter, Naomi Games, talk to students about her father’s work, (for the uninitiated, it was Abram Games that designed the FoB logo). Further to this, I have a keen interest in modernist design principles, and in particular the work of the Design Research Unit who played a key role in the planning and organisation of the 1951 Festival. It is therefore not surprising that when driving through the Lincolnshire village of Barnetby Le Wold while on holiday with my wife recently, that my eye caught sight of the familiar logo. However, the fact it was set into the concrete of a bench by a very busy roundabout was probably the last place I expected to see it.

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The famous logo—the right hand rendering has faired better in the weather than the left

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Graphic commons: more banner frenzy and other temporalities

After my last walk in Chelmsford, I’ve been noticing more and more temporary banners tied to railings. So today I took a short walk around my local area to capture those I had seen whilst in the car.

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Unlike many that I saw in Essex, the ones I saw today were mostly ‘official’, in that what was being advertised/promoted related to the property owner of the railings they were attached to. For example, Ipswich NHS Trust banners outside the hospital and the local St Elizabeth’s Hospice railings were covered in banners for fundraising events. Continue reading

Graphic commons: Progress and an Essex drift

Chelmsford

Chelmsford

Notes on current research
As my graphic commons project grows and I’m formulating links between different urban studies and theories, I’m finding out how little research there appears to be into graphic design in shared environments, (within both current or historic thinking around the topic). This may obviously be because I just haven’t found it yet, and others may be able to fill the holes in my studies, (please post in comments or DM me via the contacts page if you do have any research pointers). A 2017 report by the Design Commission titled People & Places: Design of the Built Environment and Behaviour, makes reference to how urban environments can influence mental health, but fails to mention anything in regard to how everyday visual culture may impact on this. Such references tend to be more explicitly discussed in anti-advertising doctrines such as the excellent Advertising Shits In Your Head. However, in doing so, such texts tend to be polemic and agitational in nature and do not make a wider connection to urbanism as a theoretical study.

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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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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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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.

beach

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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