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).

London 0, Hull 17

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.

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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.

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Image source: Design Week

Burn baby burn

I do like a good stunt, which is why I’m looking forward to Joe Corré burning all of his punk memorabilia in a protest about Punk London in November. Corré, the son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivian Westwood, has amounted a collection of punk atifacts he claims to be worth over 5 million pounds. Despite that this seems like an obvious publicity seeking act, the gesture does at least feel like a true connection to 1976’s nihilistic ‘year zero’ fervour.

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Corré’s manifesto

I can’t comment on any of the Punk London events having not witnessed any of it first hand, but my one concession to all things punk in 2016 was to read Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming for the first time. The context of the times is detailed with a genuine insight into the revolutionary effect that punk in 1976 had on the lives of its participants. Reading Savage’s account after Corré’s announcement brought home to me that he may have a point about the capital centric ‘celebrations’.

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Local social media

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On recent wanderings I have become fascinated with village noticeboards. They may appear quaint, twee and from another age, but for some, I suspect they provide a lifeline. Whether that be a line to God, a window cleaner or a community bus service, this is how some people find out stuff that matters to them and the quality of their life. Rural internet poverty is a real issue in this country, just as financial poverty also keeps many disconnected from an internet most of us take for granted. Marry the two and you have a demographic who are being forcibly divorced from contemporary society as more and more services cut their print budgets and concentrate information delivery online.

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Bullying tactics

It is not too bold a statement to claim that advertising is designed to interrupt our vision and assert itself into our conscious and subconscious minds. If it didn’t, corporations would not devote huge budgets to it. But recently I have observed a growth online of adverts that actually disrupt host content, in what can only be described as visual bullying. This is no more obvious than on newspaper websites that remain free from subscription.

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Above the mast—a narrow advert banner

Looking at the instances of this dominating behaviour there is a clear hierarchy of worst offenders, with banner adverts being the most benign but none-the-less annoying for the reader. Many people will be familiar with websites jumping up and down while a browser decides what advert is going to be placed in the header. This appears worse on tablets as responsive websites rearrange themselves to suit a specific device. Add to this a slow internet connection, and such visual gymnastics can make a reader abandon before everything has settled down.

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So long Shad Thames

Turn right down Bishopsgate, cross the road and go down Bevis Marks until you reach St Mary’s Axe. So started many walks with graphic design students from Liverpool Street Station to the Design Museum, always accompanied by a lecture on architecture . I initially learnt the route from a colleague of mine, (thanks Lindsey), which I then honed over the years. And it is a great shame that I won’t be taking this journey with students again, for last week, the Design Museum shut its Shad Thames doors as it relocates to Kensington.

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