It is an impressive feat for an item of graphic design to stop you in your tracks. This week, while flicking through The Guardian in my lunch break, a full-page advert for Hull, UK City of Culture 2017, did just that.
There is more than a little New Rave and London 2012 Olympics about it. And the bold typography and clashing colours couldn’t fail to catch my attention, which is its point. For a city like Hull that is often described as being (insert own choice of ‘deprived’ adjective here) to be awarded City of Culture, there must be something going on there that many people south of the Humber Bridge have over-looked. It is out to grab attention, and nestled in amongst the column inches, and adverts for furniture and cars, there is little else to compete with it.
The copy gives voice to an entire city as being warm, welcoming and intelligently witty, but without over playing its hand or coming across as false. For the inquisitive it could be enough to make them search out what is being planned for Hull 2017, it did me. There is a bravery and freshness to this approach that many other towns and cities would avoid, being too wrapped up in their own heritage and thinking culture equals ‘serious’ or ‘highbrow’. It is a shame that the agency that produced the branding, Jaywing, aren’t based in Hull—but then maybe it takes someone with an outsider’s view to take such a radical approach.
I’ve never been to Hull and this makes me want to go.
Image source: Design Week
There has been a surge of typography publications dropping through my letterbox recently. They are all very different in their own ways, but one thing unites them all over and above the excellent content, and that is the very high production values. Unfortunately my poor photographic skills won’t do any of them justice, but hopefully will give some indication that these are objects of desire.
I’d read about Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft on the Design Week blog last year when it reopened after being refurbished. It made the design press largely because of the rebranding by Phil Baines, in which he re-drew Gill Sans for all accompanying graphics. In truth, what Baines had done more than help advise on the dressing of the museum was to shine a light on an important historical design gem. And when I realised we wouldn’t be too far away while holidaying on the Kent / East Sussex boarder last week, it went on the itinerary of possible things to do. But rather than visit after going to the Chermayeff exhibition in Bexhill on our return journey home, we decided to go on a separate day, worried that two exhibitions in one day would be too much.
Last week I was asked to introduce Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica for a screening to UCS MA Journalism students and members of the public. Afterwards, in a question and answer session, someone unexpectedly asked if I thought Helvetica was timeless. It was a good question in relation to the film we had just watched, but not one that I had anticipated being asked, and therefore I said the first thing that came into my head, (and a little more sharply than maybe I should have done). As the thought of something being timelessness has always seemed an odd concept to me, I stated that nothing was timeless.
As a result of this knee-jerk response, the idea of timelessness has been on my mind all week. It is a phrase that crops up again and again in graphic design circles. It is often spoken of as a quality of good logo design and it is supposedly one of the characteristics that a design classic should embody, according to the cover of Phaidon’s publication on the same topic at least.
For the last few years I’ve set a short project for my graphic design students to declare what they believe to be a design classic. The purpose of this exercise is for them to think about measurable, objective criteria when judging a piece of graphic design rather than instinctively stating they ‘like’ something. As an educational rationale I’m less interested in what they believe to be a ‘classic’, and am aiming more at getting them to have to justify their opinions using a well reasoned argument backed up by research and a critical analysis.
In running this project, I’m often asked by students what I think can justifiably be called a design classic, a question that I’ve never really answered. Well, the other night when weeding out receipts and detritus from my wallet, it struck me that something I carry around with me on a daily basis can justifiably be called a design classic: the original Donor Card.