Sunday 21st Jun 2009
The rebranding of UKTV’s channel lineup has been going on for a while now; every couple of months another of their channels gets a new name and identity, and the original, extraordinarily pleasant and consistent network branding (at right) takes another step closer to oblivion. One of the recent rebrands was for UKTV Style, which got a pretty dreadful implementation of a reasonably nice idea - David Earls wrote more about that on Typographer.org. Next to go is UKTV Food, which will get a logo more suited to a free supermarket magazine (it really reminds me of the old Sainsbury’s one).
I guess you could say I’m not much of a fan of the overall quality of the rebrand, but there are a few good bits in there - Dave, Blighty and Eden are quite pleasant, with some nice ident work. My favourite by far though is Alibi, previously UKTV Drama. They’ve gone for a treatment reminiscent of your fashionable dynamic typography, but incorporated imagery of escape, fear, crime and violence. The typewriter typeface is perhaps a little cliché for the genre, done to death in countless private investigator made-for-tv stuff, but the stylish animation rescues it, keeping the familiar associations while providing some originality and freshness. There’s a montage of the channel idents here, and I’ve a few screenshots below.
Sunday 14th Jun 2009
I love projects like this, a Flickr group purely for Royal Mail postboxes identified by postcode. There are currently 5679 photos in the group, so is getting to be a pretty good catalogue of the postboxes in the UK - though with 115,000 in total there’s still a way to go. One of the first ones I clicked was pretty close to where I’m from, and lo, a quick search reveals the one very close to where I grew up. Ah, memories.
One of the interesting things about all these postboxes is the variety in the emblems of the reigning monarch - from Victoria to Elizabeth, they range from the florid and calligraphic to the frankly rather austere. Naturally, I’ve had a play around recreating some of the emblems, below. I wonder at the unnumbered George ones though; I’d guess they must be from during the Second World War, or directly afterwards - they suggest the Austerity period to me, but why no number? The extra metal and work required would be minimal, after all. As for the other later ones, the lettering looks to be inspired by Caslon types, though with plenty of variation from the hand-carved moulds, which has given them various profile styles from soft to sharp-edged, strengthening and highlighting the symbols - a kind of 3D hinting, if you like. I hope the effect was intentional, as it’s rather nice.
Perhaps controversially, I also had a bit of a play at creating a symbol for Prince Charles when (or if?) he becomes king. He may choose to reign as George VII, though from a design point of view I hope not - if he keeps his current first name he can have that ‘III’ fitting into the counter of the C, which I rather like the look of.
Monday 25th May 2009
Another gem found through Coudal, this. Re-Type posted an article about the beautiful lettering by Leo Beukeboom on the windows of bars and cafes in Amsterdam (with a nice appreciation of decent, old-style, non-trendy bars in there too). There’s a series of photos with the article, which I’ve traced the lettering from (below), and as a bonus Re-Type themselves are working on interpreting the lettering into an Opentype face, which so far looks great - can’t wait to see it finished.
I did a bit of hunting around for more information on Beukeboom, and found this article on David Quay’s site, containing a lot of background information and an interview, which is fascinating and well worth a read. I’m particularly taken by this:
The letter you use on a pub window depends on the type of pub. If you have a traditional brown café, with lace curtains on copper curtain rods, with stained glass windows, you choose a nice, ornamental curly letter, because it fits in with the environment. It is not the information that counts, because everyone can tell it’s a café, but it’s about decoration, about creating an atmosphere. For the lettering on the traditional brown cafés I developed my own script based on the calligraphy of Jan van den Velde.Leo Beukeboom, from David Quay Design
I love that. The words themselves become secondary to the style in conveying information - without knowing what it says, you know what it says. Certainly not an infallible system, but most types of place (and many things) have their signature look, and as I’ve posted before (warning, extremely wordy article) you should know what you’re doing before you mess with it. They’re the design patterns of urban existence, if you will, though in the case of Beukeboom’s lettering, this is one that is slowly fading - unless anyone wants to become his apprentice that is. If he still wants one.
I am indebted to Adrian Giddings for finding the originals of these images. I saw them on Design Crush, and from there to ffffound and from there… a blank. Blogger really needs some kind of reverse lookup for their dreadful impenetrable image URLs, and ffffound needs to better record the URL of the page containing the image. Still, I now know where these posters are from. They’re clever, simple, and have a graphic elegance reminiscent of Otl Aicher’s work for the 1972 Munich Olympics, with typography that is pure London. If Wolf Olins had gone down this route I’m sure there would have been far less controversy about the branding for London 2012.
Of course, these are proposals designed to work with the Transport for London branding, not for the Olympics, and I think work perfectly in that context. For the Olympics itself, for all their cleverness and simplicity, they’d be a bit too classic Olympics, a little too safe. Perhaps.
As for the actual 2012 logo/brand, it’s has been out for quite a while now, but I’m still not entirely sure yet what I think of it - I don’t like it, but it may be exactly right for the event. We won’t really know until after the Olympics, and then, no doubt, we’ll have plenty of learned analyses about it to tell us what to think. I wonder how agnostic I’ll be able to be.
Yves posted on Friday on the FontFeed about a couple of campaigns by Inlingua promoting their business English courses. One of them is this brilliantly animated advert, creating a battlefield scenario out of words set all in Helvetica caps. As Yves says:
The video looks and feels like a first-person shooter war game, with excellent POV camera work and sound design. The camera runs and ducks through the environment, hiding behind walls and in trenches, while being assailed from all sides by helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, and explosions made of type.Yves Peters, The FontFeed.
The thing I like especially, and it’s one of those great detail things, is the sound of voices mingled with the explosions, gunfire and engine noises. It’s not overt, but it’s a really nice touch. Go and take a look (and listen).
Sunday 12th Apr 2009
When I was writing about the St John’s Bible last week I was reminded of the typography of Coventry Cathedral and wanted to post a couple of pictures of it then, but I wasn’t immediately able to find decent pictures. I’ve had a proper look round, done some more research and found some pictures and I think given the history of the cathedral it’s an appropriate post for Easter Sunday, with themes of rebirth and all; Following the destruction of St Michael’s Cathedral (and much of the city) in a Luftwaffe attack on the 14th of November 1940:
…the then leaders of the Cathedral Community took the courageous step to build a new Cathedral and preserve the remains of the old Cathedral as a moving reminder of the folly and waste of war. From that point, Coventry Cathedral became the inspiration for a ministry of peace and reconciliation that has reached out across the entire world.Wikipedia: Coventry Cathedral
The new Cathedral was designed by Sir Basil Spence (who also designed my alma mater, Sussex University), with stained glass by John Piper and Keith New, the great tapestry by Graham Sutherland, sculptures by Jacob Epstein and John Bridgeman, the Great West Window by John Hutton and last, but absolutely not least, lettering and carvings by Ralph Beyer. It’s this lettering that fascinates me, and it’s strange that there are so very few pictures of it.
When I was looking for pictures I revisited the Cathedral’s website (which for some reason has no photo gallery) and realised that it’s possible to get some decent pictures out of the well-intentioned but bizzarely designed ‘Virtual Tour’. So with one exception (below), that’s where I got the pictures here. I don’t like being negative, but that virtual tour really could have a better user interface. It dominates and detracts from the movies, which are presented at a size that’s far, far too small - the content and the Cathedral deserves better than that.
How Beyer came to be chosen for the Coventry Cathedral project is interesting, and includes a fair few other famous names and some remarkable coincidences. I have to quote fairly liberally from his obituary in the Times, or I’d just be rewriting it:
In 1937, aged 16, Beyer visited England where, on the recommendation of Mendelsohn, he spent six months as an apprentice to Eric Gill. Like Gill, and doubtless enthused by him, Beyer was fascinated by the qualities of carved stone, by simple sculptural forms and especially by letterform. Ralph then studied in London, at the Central School of Arts & Crafts and at Chelsea School of Art where he met Henry Moore, for whom he worked briefly before being interned as an enemy alien at the outbreak of the war.The Times
Encouraged by Henry Moore, Spence decided that, the Sutherland tapestry apart, the dominant decorative feature of the interior of the new Coventry Cathedral should be lettering rather than narrative sculpture. He knew he was looking not simply for a craftsman but for an artist capable of making a truly distinctive contribution. It was Pevsner who suggested that Spence should meet Beyer, to learn how he might approach a project which was to become the defining challenge of his life.The Times
The Independent has a more extensive obituary, and highlights a good point about the style of the modern Church of England being inspired by the early church, which I think is what reminded me of this work when looking at the St John’s Bible:
Although Spence’s cathedral was criticised for its conventional Latin cross plan, Beyer’s Tablets of the Word reflected post-war ecclesiastical interest in the early church and today they remain strikingly innovative examples of lapidary art.The Independent
Beyer also designed a typeface for use on hymnals and other publications. The cathedral website makes good use of the typeface using Flash, and using browser zooming and screenshots I’ve assembled the text at right and top right. Of course that’s no substitute for the real typeface; I’d like to see if there’s a lowercase, other weights or styles, what the rest of the numerals look like, and how it’s kerned.
Sunday 29th Mar 2009
Here’s a great collection of science and techology adverts from the 50s and 60s, full of wonderful illustration, type treatments, vintage logos and some pretty inspirational layouts. I’ve got a few details of some of my favourites below, but be sure to have a good look through the set as there’s a load more in there that are great, such as this, and this. There are a few other interesting Flickr sets by bustbright too, including this collection of Bebrauchsgraphik covers which I’m going to have a look through. This one is great.
So there are some of my favourites. The top row is that combination of rough-textured painting and precise drawing that characterises mid-century graphic design. I love it. Below those are some nice type and logo treatments: that ampersand, for example, is made from an orbiting particle, yet sits halfway between the classic and commercial ampersands. Interesting! After that there’s six illustration styles: a dramatic JPL illustration which looks like a Victorian steampunk device for testing space-age technology; a cold-war classic world map with presumably The Crossbow of Progress overlaid on it; then a ghostly green hand of A-OK (don’t try this gesture in Turkey); a lovely space scene which I think could do without the little globe inset above the text; a spare and sharp layout and illustration for Philco - though the outline drawing of the computer looks like something demanded by the client rather than part of the original design; then an advert promising a level of defence from incoming missiles that even today we don’t have. Old adverts are great.
Sunday 29th Mar 2009
I’ve been following the excellent Cooper Typography Blog for a little while now, and recently Sasha pointed me to his article on Alfred Mahlau, with a short biography and a large collection of images of his work. Of course I’ve traced a few of them below. The lettering is distinctive and highly geometric - the curves are all based on circles - and has some attractive ligatures. As Sasha said in his article, the treatment of some of the umlauts is attractive - replacing the diacritic with a digraph when writing Lübeck. Check out the rest of the site; it’s got great articles, fascinating examples and links (you may lose a day or three with this one), and is definitely well adding to your RSS/bookmarks.
I saw Airside’s great brand/logo system for Greenpeace’s Airplot! campaign (against the new runway at Heathrow Airport) the other day, and today Bauldoff linked to more information on the development of it. I love the development process for the typeface used in the identity, printed in acrylic paint with letters cut out of corrugated cardboard; the corrugations in the cardboard brilliantly emulate the ridged appearance of ploughed fields, and creases and imperfections bring to mind the parch marks brought about by underlying geology (or archaeology!) you can only see from the air. The whole system is very flexible, and as you can see from the examples, allows for a wide range of messages to be created and set while maintaining the strong visual identity of the campaign.
All in all, it’s a great idea, well executed. The campaign itself is interesting and rather amusing, it certainly caught my imagination when I first heard of it. Basically, Greenpeace bought a field in the middle of where the new Heathrow runway is going to be, and is parcelling it off and selling it to potentially hundreds of people worldwide, with the idea that the Government won’t easily be able to track down the owners to force a compulsory purchase. It may not prevent the building of the runway, and may not even slow it down very much (the original purchase could be identified as being legally ‘vexatious’ and nullified) but it brings the protest to light in a positive, clever and interesting way that is likely to appeal to the public. Other recent airport expansion protests have focussed on inconveniencing the travelling public, which, while you might say it’s justified in highlighting the importance of the issue, isn’t going to get much support from said travelling public.
Update: The Airplot site is now live!
I’ve had the basic kernel for this article sitting around since 2007, when I was sat around recovering from an injury and needed regular doses of painkillers to make it comfortable. I was surrounded by the empty boxes of these painkillers (hey, who thinks of cleaning when injured?) and started thinking about the ‘brand space’ of consumer drugs. Writing about the Arabic logos and brands reminded me that I’d not finished the article, so here goes.
Years ago I’d read how there’s a great deal of conservatism in various industries, and especially the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector when it comes to designing packaging and logos. The basic idea is that when your Average Punter goes into a shop to buy, say, bathroom cleaner, he will span the shelves for the specific and familiar constellation of bright colours, dramatic lettering and packaging shape that would identify the product type. It is the combination of all these things, taken in at a glance, that helps us quickly identify bathroom cleaner from, say, furniture polish even though they may share some aspects (in this case, packaging type and lettering, but not the colour range). For the designer of such packaging, coming up with something new and different enough to get noticed without being so different as to move it out of the visual category entirely is the difficult job, rewarding to some and incredibly constraining to others. I follow The Dieline regularly, and while there’s a steady flow of new and often beautiful products and rebrands, FMCG packaging design seemingly only evolves through a glacially-slow process; any slight innovations that improve the success of one product are adopted by them all until they’re all exactly the same again.
Returning to the design of pharmaceutical packaging, it seems that for branded consumer drugs, the category has a checklist that all packaging must follow. It must scream from the shelf with bold and oblique sans-serif type, bright oranges and reds against dark blues and greens (or silver metallic, if you have the budget) and have at least one swoosh, arrow or starburst, but preferably all three. If you can squeeze an airbrushed diagram of the body in there, then so much the better, especially if you can put a warm orange glow on the medicine’s intended body part. Before you know it you’ll have something perfect for any discerning pharmacy shelf, and there’s no chance someone will mistake your box of headache pills for ground coffee. That’s your brand-name drugs anyway.
Most supermarkets have a range of common remedies with deliberately plain and understated packaging, and like any range of products identifies itself to the consumer from the shelves with its own signature characteristic; usually a blaze of unadorned white semigloss cardboard. Own-brand stuff can be gloriously simple and often highly compelling, especially when some real thought has been put into it, as in Target’s ClearRx packaging system for example. Other times, own-brand stuff just looks like the brand-name product, type styles, layout, colours and all. In the UK, Boots had a beautifully simple and clear packaging style for its range of own-brand medicines, but recently its ibuprofen has taken on the red-on-silver-with-a-swoosh look, very similar to the brand-name version, Nurofen. From a designer’s point of view it’s disappointing, but there is a very good reason for it in that for most people branded products simply work better. In making their ibuprofen look like the brand-name version, they’re actually boosting the analgesic effect:
In a British study, 835 women who regularly used analgesics for headache were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group received aspirin labeled with a widely advertised brand name (“one of the most popular” analgesics in the United Kingdom that had been “widely available for many years and supported by extensive advertising”). The other groups received the same aspirin in a plain package, placebo marked with the same widely advertised brand name, or unmarked placebo. In this study, branded aspirin worked better than unbranded aspirin, which worked better than branded placebo, which worked better than unbranded placebo. Among 435 headaches reported by branded placebo users, 64% were reported as improved 1 hour after pill administration compared with only 45% of the 410 headaches reported as improved among the unbranded placebo users. Aspirin relieves headaches, but so does the knowledge that the pills you are taking are “good” ones.Annals of Internal Medicine
And, to make it clearer that this is a more of a symptom of being human rather than a modern result of sophisticated marketing practices, how about this quote (from the same page) from Socrates:
[The cure for the headache] was a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the charm the leaf would be of no avail.Socrates, according to Plato
Returning to the original example of bathroom cleaner, could this cultural placebo effect apply to more than just pharmaceuticals? I think it most certainly does, and that we usually suspect it when we compare the prices of brand-name and own-brand products on the supermarket shelf, and yet, and I include myself in this too, we so often end up buying the big brands. If a style of packaging, labelling and use of colour identifies the product category, then surely the one that is most identifiable, most familiar, has the best marketing, is the acme of that category, the best one? So unless we have a strong reason not to, and reasoning implies some analytical thought, we buy it.
Extending beyond groceries, we can see this culturally-imposed brand conformity in almost any market sector. Something that I had in mind when thinking of this article in 2007 were the Abbey National rebrands of 2003 and 2005. In September 2003, Abbey National adopted a soft, squishy, pastel-coloured brand identity created by Wolf Olins, and started trading under the all-lowercase moniker ‘abbey’. The new tagline, “Turning banking on its head” signalled the intent of the dramatic change in the brand, and the whole process certainly got Abbey a lot of media attention, but:
In marketing terms, however, the rebrand was a clear disaster. Last year, pre-tax profits in Abbey’s core retail business shrank by 20% to £814m compared with 2003 and there was another big slump in market share. New mortgage lending is also down year on year from 9.9% to 3.1%, reducing its overall mortgage share from 10.7% to 8.6%.Ian Fraser
Of course, it is unlikely that the rebrand caused all of that. The rebranding itself came about to a large extent because the bank was already in trouble, but it’s pretty clear that it didn’t turn banking on its head, and more importantly it didn’t bring them any of the kind of success they needed. In fact, it was only a year and a half later that Abbey was bought by Spain’s largest bank, Santander, and the whole brand identity was unceremoniously ditched. The Abbey name is now set in Santander’s typeface and style, placed next to Santander’s flame logo, with Santander’s colours, and soon, I suspect, will be itself replaced with Santander’s own name too. For various reasons, Abbey did a lot better after being bought out, but the thing about the Santander brand is that it looks like a bank, and that’s important. If a bank looks like a bank, we treat it like a bank. I would say we trust it like a bank, but this is early 2009 and the word ‘trust’ and ‘bank’ don’t seem to go together very well anymore. But still, the principle holds - things need to look like what we expect them to look like; there’s a contract of trust associated with brands and you break that contract at your peril.
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