Original image from LIFE.
Here’s a nice topical post for St. Valentine’s Day. I just read about this fun project over on Brand New: Redesigning Valentine’s Day. Studio 360 came up with the idea, following on from previous ‘challenges’ to redesign Christmas Day and the Gay Freedom Flag. I normally like reading things like this because of the fresh thinking and the usually interesting return to first principles as a place to start, but this feels a bit flat. Brand New give a list of positives and negative aspects of Valentine’s Day, and they have some interesting ideas, but if this was a branding brief, I’d start with a list of brand aims, what we want to achieve:
To go with the brand aims, you want to see what’s wrong with the existing brand:
So what did Brand New come up with? A cross, essentially, a cross that sort of looks like a V. Made from the diagonal axes of the heart symbol, curved a bit to soften them up, and vertically orientable to indicate availability, it’s iconic and reasonably flexible, and the suggested application on Facebook and the like is pretty nice. The thing is, with those colours it really reminds me of the brands for the Pink Ribbon Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. If I saw this symbol without knowing its origins, I’d assume it was part of the branding for one of these two charities, and given that Valentine’s isn’t serious, and breast cancer is, this is a problem. Also, it’s too reliant on accurate reproduction of those gentle curves. In most people’s hands it’ll just be a plain ‘X’, a symbol of affection certainly, but not quite the heartfelt romantic love you’re trying to get across. So as much as I respect Armin and Bryony, I think this symbol is a dud. It’s too serious, too cold, too (sorry) dull. It’s based on diagonals across a heart, so it’s based on a heart. Why not use a heart symbol then?
And this is the root of it. We already have a set of well-recognised, simple, straightforward symbols we use to indicate romance and love, and we have a very flexible brand palette, ranging from rose pink to carmine red. The biological (and anatomical) associations with the colour are pretty obvious, and happily elicit a strong emotional response of exactly the sort we’re looking for with Valentine’s Day. No other colour does the job; for example even if Tiffany Blue is a welcome sight for some on Valentine’s Day, it’s not the colour that people will ever associate with love, just merely one of the benefits of it.
So, let’s look at the symbols of love and Valentine’s Day, then. What do we have?
Hearts on everything! This surely is the main thing everyone associates with Valentine’s Day. It’s simple, obvious, easy to draw, recognisable, and even has a kind of logic to it. It may not be a perfect image of a human heart, but it’s close enough — the way it’s usually drawn, it’s round, plump, healthy, it’s a symbol of fullness, of comfort, of abundance. It’s even the symbol Armin and Bryony started with to create their cross, so why gild the lily?
The god of erotic love, we all recognise Cupid; the winged, plump little boy carrying a bow and arrow. These days he’s pretty much interchangeable with the legions of generic winged babies floating around with ribbons, hearts, garlands of flowers and the rest. They’re often called cherubs, but these aren’t the four-winged, four-faced, ninth-rank angels from the Bible at all, so while there’s not going to be much confusion, you can call them putti. Whatever you call them, they’re often depicted doing something slightly mischievous; Cupid represents the impulsive and childish nature of love. He is anything but serious, he is newborn love personified. In a literal sense too, he represents that ultimate product and beneficiary of love - the child.
What better symbol of romantic love than the genitals of a plant? I guess a picture of our own organs would be considered a little forward and might embarrass the waiter at that nice restaurant you’re at. People give all sorts of flowers on Valentine’s Day, but it’s the rose, the red rose that’s become the ultimate gift of love. It’s the richness of colour, the fullness of the shape of the flower, the heady scent, they’re beautiful and inspire our senses. They’re also a bit pricey around Valentine’s Day, so to be cynical for a moment, they say, “Look, you’re worth me shelling out for these things, even if they are going to be dead tomorrow”.
Chocolates, sweets, a nice meal – a gift of food has been a tangible sign of love for as long as we can tell. It has to be something rich and indulgent, preferably sweet, uncommon and yes, expensive. In the past, honey was the acme of sweets, to get at it you usually had to kill the hive (and face the angry bees), and that made it much, much more expensive. It’s no accident that we have a honeymoon (not exactly an everyday occurrence) and that the promised land was described as a land of milk and honey. Giving a gift of honey to your beloved showed that you were willing to spend money on them, and that you had it to spend. Commercialisation is hardly new when it comes to love.
I think the branding of St Valentine’s Day is pretty much perfect. It fulfils everything it needs to do. Sure, it can be tasteless and crass, but it can be refined and beautiful too. You’ve four symbols with which to express your love, the abstract heart, the figurative cupid, the symbolic flowers and the tangible gifts of food, and you have a colour scheme you can use to brand any additional gifts and accessories, lingerie, wines, foods, lighting, and so on — you can simply do whatever you want with them.
Valentine’s Day is an incredibly democratic event; the barriers are low, the incentive to be creative high, and the rewards of success extraordinary.
And, of course, you can refuse to have anything to do with it and grumble about all these grinning idiots facehugging all over the damn place and upsetting the horses. Clearly, that’s the sensible opinion, held by all right-thinking people, which, I guess, is the point.
Sunday 24th Jan 2010
Andy Polaine recently tweeted a link to this video on David Airey’s site about Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop established in 1879 in Nashville, Tennessee, which is still operating. The manager, Jim Sherraden, has strong views on how to run the shop, with a motto of “preservation through production”, the idea being that all the equipment, all the blocks, everything, is still used regularly, even if it’s for one print. Sherradden regards the shop as a living museum; everything is letterpress, and done by hand, and interestingly:
we don’t introduce new typefaces because I don’t want to pollute the integrity of the archive.
I’m glad someone is doing this. I’m glad that this style, so American, is being maintained, that these wood blocks are being used for printing and not for decorating someone’s wall, and that these presses are still operating and being maintained. I’m glad someone’s doing this, because I don’t think I’d want to. I know I’d find myself craving new typefaces, screenprinting, digital print, variety. So yes, I’m glad someone’s doing this. Someone else.
Friday 15th Jan 2010
One of the design sites I read regularly is Fubiz, and on there I recently read this post on Daniel Carlsten’s work for the new gambling site, Gnuf. I’m rather fond of the type and iconography of playing cards (as I’ve posted before), so a new identity using many of those themes is going to get my attention, especially as Carlsten has designed a typeface for Gnuf based on them. Looking at how the whole identity works on gnuf.com, I like how he’s not tried to ‘smooth out’ the type, keeping the instead the odd widths and shapes of the letters and numerals and their exaggerated, oddly-placed serifs. I guess there are free fonts out there that do the playing card thing well enough, since the theme hardly requires fine kerning or balance, but it’s unusual and worthy of comment to see it as part of a nicely integrated identity like this. It’s worth checking out the rest of Carlsten’s work too, there’s some lovely work in his portfolio.
Normally I find all-Flash websites intensely frustrating and rarely recommend them to anyone. I think no matter how glittering with effects, how technically accomplished they may be, they represent a regrettable attitude to the web; a lack of ‘playing nice with others’ that keeps the information locked away, often unlinkable, frequently unquotable and usually inaccessible. Still, sometimes there are sites that do something so nice it’s worth linking to them, despite their Flashtastic nature. A few days ago It’s Nice That linked to the new site of Established & Sons which has some lovely things, and some lovelier type treatments using URW’s Didoni. One of my favourite examples is below:
Some time ago I quietly redid the logo for The Ministry of Type, recreating the crown image out of little dots. I didn’t make an announcement out of it at the time, but I was (and am) pleased with it — it’s a lot more me now. I had a number of reasons for wanting to redo it, mainly that even though I drew the original crown image, it was very close to the official ones, and related to that, those Keep Calm and Carry On posters have become so incredibly popular that I’ve had more than one person ask whether there was a link between them and my site. Short and long answer: no, there isn’t.
So, it was time to redo it, and with the dots I was feeling very pleased with myself indeed, until the very next day when I saw a link on TypeNeu (I think) to the recent work of Brighton’s own Colophon foundry, specifically their typeface Perfin, which has a crown made of dots in it. Consternation! Had I unwittingly ripped them off? But no, their crown is very different from mine, and I’m pretty sure I had my idea without seeing theirs, and more importantly, there’s plenty of room in the world for lots of things made of dots. Still, it did provide a nice excuse to get in touch and I can confirm they’re an extremely talented and nice bunch of people. Here’s a bit of Perfin, designed by Alison Haigh for Colophon, you can see their inspiration for the face: the perforations and dot-matrix printing Royal Mail use to identify post in their systems.
That was some time ago, and I was reminded that I’d meant to make a post on this when I read on Brand New about the new Pfizer branding. Ignoring for a moment the regrettable update to their logo, I was drawn to the other brand assets that Siegel+Gale produced for them — the dotted illustrations and typeface, below.
I can imagine that there were all sorts of discussions that likened the dots to pills or something or other, but to me, thinking of Pfizer as one of those old 20th Century companies like ICI, IBM and all that, I had images of mid-century computer displays, specifically a type of nixie tube called (I think) a pixie tube. I’ve got a picture of some basic nixie tubes below, as it seems that the type I’m familiar with—where the letters are formed from individual points of light — are quite rare. Indeed, this is the closest I could find online to the type I saw in my father’s and grandfather’s workshops. They’re really rather beautiful things:
So yes, that Pfizer logo change. Overall, it’s good, but it’s just that P. It seems so disconnected from the rest of the name now — I really think they should have kept the serif in it, it provided a visual ‘push’ of the P into the F. Just my opinion, mind.
Sunday 1st Nov 2009
Entirely coincidentally, I get to post about another archive of a long-running and well-known magazine; this time, Playboy. John of I Love Typography tweeted a link to this, just over 50 issues of Playboy from 1954 to 2006. The site will require you to install Silverlight, but is fairly well put together and easy to use, with a nice contents feature that also lists the ads and a search function that works well. If you need to be reminded that Playboy magazine contains a few pictures here and there of ladies in provocative poses with few clothes on, then consider yourself reminded — for whatever reasons you have, be they sociological, political or because a magic sky-fairy told you, if you find such things offensive, don’t click through. Of course, the images and type I’ve included below are entirely ‘safe for work’.
I’ve never looked at Playboy magazine before — it’s not really my thing, shall we say — but have of course heard the somewhat defensive assertion that the articles are worth reading. Just a quick look through reveals interviews with Fidel Castro, Miles Davis, Sterling Moss, loads of fiction, journalism, pages and pages of dense, dense text, and then, so rarely you almost ask “What’s that doing there?” a picture of a young woman with not much on. I must admit I didn’t really look at the newer issues, as after the logotype changes in 1972 the whole thing looks a whole lot less appealing, and makes me think perhaps the magazine becomes a little less, er, cerebral from this point. The bits of type and spreads below are mostly from the late ’50s and early ’60s, and are just an example of some of the lovely bits of type and layouts in the magazine. So yes, go and have a look at the Playboy magazine archive and do some of your own typographic research, if that’s what you’re after.
It’s Nice That linked to this great piece on Amusement magazine, telling the ‘real’ story of how the iconic figures and objects in videogames were made. I love the idea of these things being made in a workshop - the pong one below is great. It took me a moment to recognise the Mario mushrooms being carved out of stone, but boy, if someone ever was to make them that way I know of quite a few people who’d want to buy one.
Monday 27th Jul 2009
I’m often saving links from the Contemporist, but this hotel, Creators Inn by Elvine (and others), caught my eye for the nice labelling of the wardrobes and the printed history of Elvine on the shower screen. It’s a nice touch, but I wonder if it doesn’t seem a little incomplete as an implementation - things like this are best left subtle or taken to the extremes; if every item in the room was labelled in the same way, with usage notes perhaps, it would be quite the thing. Also, as one of the commenters pointed out, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the hotel logo and that of a rather large hotel chain. Still, it does look rather nice, and if you’re a creative person visiting the city, you can get free accommodation there. Now that’s a nice touch.
Saturday 11th Jul 2009
I saw the cover of this magazine, designed by Ill Studio, on ISO 50 and immediately saved the link; I love the type, the photo, the composition, everything. The rest of the magazine is beautiful, but it’s the cover I love - go and take a look at the rest of it. Now if only there was a link to the magazine’s site - with such a generic name it hardly pops right up on Google.
Here’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while, and happily it’s a local project, right here in Brighton and Hove. There’s a new service, just launched, which lets you text a code for a particular bus stop to a number and get an SMS back telling you the next five buses to go from that stop. It’s quite a neat idea and pretty fast (I tried it), and a nice complement to the other ways of getting bus information*.
So that’s the back-story. What is good, and particularly appealing to me, is the advertising campaign and the various materials to help people keep a track of the bus stop codes, designed by David Earls of Typographer.org, for Brighton & Hove City Council. I saw a fair bit of the development work on this and I’m glad that this design was chosen and made it through to print unscathed. It’s a beautiful arrangement of type and colour, designed to appeal mainly to teenagers and young adults (and, incidentally, typographers) and adapts well to a wide variety of applications. The typeface (Rockwell Extra Bold) lends itself well to this kind of extreme kerning, with the nicely balanced word shapes the alternating colours and tones ensuring the message remains perfectly readable. The campaign included billboards, bus-stop adshels, A4 posters, information stickers, leaflets with punch-out cards, and a competition to win a new mobile phone:
* Note: I should point out that it’s not free, or even particularly cheap. It’s not provided by Brighton & Hove City Council either - though it is partially subsidised by them I believe.
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