Inspiration

Schusev State Museum of Architecture

I could look at these illustrations all day. They’re for a press and outdoor campaign promoting the Schusev State Museum of Architecture. Compositionally they remind me of that iceberg image, which seems appropriate given the brief to show the history of architecture going much deeper than the buildings you see. The quality of the modelling and illustration is excellent and are well worth looking at more closely in the larger images. I think the sketch images included on Behance and Design You Trust are nice, but (somewhat unrealistically) I’d love to see all the discarded sketches and roughs they made along the way, I bet there are loads of good, interesting ideas that didn’t make it through. The extended buildings (The Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow State University¹ and St Basil’s Cathedral) look amazingly plausible, if a little reminiscent of something Nicolae Ceaușescu might have actually tried to build². The Moscow State University one is already a high-rise building so perhaps looks the most likely, if rather Gotham-esque. The St Basil’s one is just astounding.


Amazing. I rather like the red, green and blue theming of the images too.

As mentioned above, there’s a load of who-did-what information and bigger images on Behance and Design You Trust (where I first saw them), and a zoomable set of images on Carioca Studio’s site too.

  1. A bit of trivia: one of Moscow’s Seven Sisters and the tallest building in Europe until 1990. I initially mistook this building for the Hotel Ukraina, another one of the seven.
  2. Fully recognising that what he did cause to be built devastated Bucharest, the capital of Romania (and the rest).

Flying Cars

It must be the future already because, look, flying cars! It turns out that there’s been a whole series of these sculptures over the years at Goodwood Festival of Speed by Gerry Judah. I saw the photos of this year’s one on Dezeen and thought it was a nice concept rendering, but no, it’s real. What a thing!

I’ll have to go next year. Goodwood is almost literally round the corner from where I live.

Flat Colour Icons

DKNG recently launched their ICON series of posters, showing a single scene or prop from a range of movies that are so recognisable they’re actually iconic. My knowledge of cinema is clearly lacking (hey, an opportunity to watch some more!) as there are a fair few I don’t recognise. They’re lovely things though, and tap into the current resurgent fashion for simple vector style illustration and desaturated flat colours. I’m very much a fan of the style and love how something so often linked to retro ephemera is being updated and made fresh and new again. However, I do feel a little sad that we’re going to see it so often that we’ll all get fed up of it pretty soon. In the meantime though, let’s enjoy it.


I already have so many prints that need framing, but I might need to get one or two more.

There’s plenty out there to look at in the style, and at the risk of being terribly commercial (I have absolutely no connection to either of these, I just want to link to them), there’s another link to stuff-for-sale that I rather like, these three icon sets, Flatties by UI Parade:


I do have a license for these, but for obvious reasons I’m showing only their obfuscated images.

British Rail Identity

Here’s a glorious bit of design nostalgia for the New Year. It’s hardly a new find on the web; designer Nick Job first started this archive of the British Rail identity manuals in 2011, but I’ve just been reminded of it. Somehow I’ve never written about it either, which is a bit of an oversight given the entirely-unofficial and tongue in cheek name of this site: the British Rail alphabet and signage guidelines were also used by the British Airports Authority and National Health Service, making them as much a government standard as Britain ever usually manages.

The alphabet had two variants, one for dark-on-light type and one for light-on-dark. Light (and illuminated) type on dark backgrounds creates an optical effect known as ‘halation’ - i.e. it develops a halo, a slight sense of the letterforms being thicker than they are. To cope with this, the letterforms are reduced by the width of an outline for the lighter type, shown in the last panel above — while retaining the same spacing and other details of the type. It’s worth pointing out that a revival of the typeface is now available to license and as a web font from FontDeck.

For the non-British (or the very young) British Rail was the nationalised entity that ran the vast majority of railways (and a few ferry routes and other transport-related things) in the UK, beginning in 1948¹. It was rarely out of the news (more so on slow news days) for ‘record losses’, ‘strikes’, ‘failures’, ‘delays’ and so on. Starting in 1994 the network was dismantled and sold off, with the last few bits sold in 1997. Instead of a nationally-owned monopoly, we have regional monopolies owned by a variety of companies and (perhaps amusingly), the nationalised rail corporations of other countries. The headlines are now about ‘record price rises’, ‘record profits’ (also: greedy executives and shareholders), ‘overcrowding’, and yes, ‘delays’. According to the polls², privatisation is generally considered to have been a Very Bad Idea and Can It Go Back To How It Was, Please. Whatever your view or politics on the matter are, running an at-capacity rail network will never make you popular with the people who have to use it. I’m being charitable there.

Despite each of the rail operating companies having their own brands, for most British people the British Rail identity is still a familiar part of the landscape, with the logo being the road sign symbol for any rail station, and much of the signage (especially at smaller stations) unchanged from pre-privatisation days. But what an identity! The whole thing is such a brilliantly consistent and well-designed system, owing much of its strength to its crisp, stark simplicity, to its minimalism and almost-total reliance on typography alone. There’s so little to it that there’s very little (virtually nothing) that can ever really look out of date or old fashioned — sure in the 80s everyone³ had a thing for Rotis (for heaven’s sake) and there was that grunge stuff in the 90s and we’ve had the web and all that, but nothing that was really so outstandingly superior or more modern. What made the identity look bad was the usual thing that ruins most good things: neglect and apathy. A faded peeling sign in a shabby, half-ruined station with leaky roofs and deathtrap toilets is never going to look great, and by the time privatisation came along that was the caricature we were being presented with, and so out it went.

And that’s a real shame, for so many reasons.

1 It was originally called British Railways, changing its trading name to British Rail in 1965.
2 Quite a few links, but even The Express supports renationalisation, and it’s not known for its socialist views.
3 OK, not everyone, but it was very popular.
4 Pixellated type? So last decade.

Translated Untranslatable Words

I use the title guardedly, as these words featured and illustrated by Ella Frances Sanders at Maptia are all perfectly translatable, but as phrases rather than as neat single words. There’s probably a neat word in a language somewhere that we could use to describe concepts-as-single-words that can’t be translated into single words in other languages. We could of course make one up, say, we could call them uniglottal, i.e. existing as a word in only one language. Words like this get borrowed pretty quickly if they’re useful enough, for example, Schadenfreude — and while words get borrowed all the time, here they’re a special kind of loan word, describing an idea rather than a thing.

One of the words in the list, the lovely Japanese word komorebi reminded me of a word that’s been sufficiently borrowed long enough not to be included in lists like this anymore: bokeh, which is well-known in photography, and like a lot of loan words doesn’t venture much outside a particular profession or technical niche. Then you get to thinking of it and notice more and more, and it reminds me of a French colleague half-jokingly saying, “You can tell if an English word is one of the ones we brought over*: it has more than one syllable”. Controversial.

If you’re interested in the idea of words like this, Better Than English posts a new one fairly frequently.

* 1066 and all that, or, if you prefer.

Betteo 365

I’ve been enjoying Patricio Betteo’s 365 project for a few years now and somehow never linked to it here. The illustrations are (I think) added daily, though there’ve been a few months where it’s not been updated at all (sounds familiar, can’t think why). It’s a regular source of inspiration for me, with a mix of illustrative styles, with occasional photographs and typographic designs, and always in a square format — the variety and quality are quite brilliant. Patricio Betteo is extraordinarily talented, and if you look through his blog or DeviantART portfolio you’ll probably notice you’ve seen some of his work at some point even if you’ve not heard his name. Well worth a look.

Blued

I’m quite fond of illustrations made with restricted palettes (part of the appeal of mid-century printed ephemera, I think) so this project by Sameer Kulavoor (as Bombay Duck Designs) caught my eye when It’s Nice That featured it.

The illustrations highlight the use of basic blue tarpaulins in Indian cities by abstracting all the other elements and leaving just the shadows and the blue colour to define the scene. If in India the blue tarp is ubiquitous, as in Kulavoor’s words, “it makes for excellent sun-proofing, dust-proofing, pigeon-shit proofing, packaging, and temporary refugee camps.” they’re certainly familiar globally; I recall my father’s motorbikes being protected from the rain with them, a neighbour’s shed-rebuilding project shrouded in one (for years) and various festivals and outdoor markets seemingly constructed from them (and thickets of scaffolding poles). The book is available from Tadpole Store.

The ABC App

Created by Bart De Keyzer and Frederik Jacques, This is how I learn my ABC is a beautiful little educational app (or digital book, should you prefer) for the iPad. Clearly aimed at children, the app is delightfully presented with clean, crisp illustrations, bold typography and subtle animations, and therefore will probably get just as many designers as parents buying it (and I’d guess most of the overlap between those). The app is in three sections, the first a tour through the alphabet where you get to admire the big illustrations, hear the sounds of the animals and read a fact or two about each one, and the other two are quizzes that let you match the letter to the animal or vice versa, and keep score on how well you’re doing.

There are some posters available to buy on Society 6 as well (there’s no page listing all of them that I can see, so I’ve linked to D for Dog here). I think the name of the app is a little too dominant on them, if you got a ‘full set’ it’d look pretty strange — I’d rather they be more traditional with the illustration and animal name front and centre with the name of the app much less visible. After all, if you buy these for your home, who are you advertising to?

Pelican Covers of the 1960s

Very much a hey, look at this post, this. I’ve just seen a link to this collection on Things Magazine of Pelican Books covers for the 1960s (and each decade they were published). It’s interesting to see how the template developed along with the Penguin series until it all got a bit chaotic in the late ’70s and was discontinued in the 1980s. Joe Kral also maintains a collection of Penguin and Pelican covers on Flickr.

Open Architecture Manifesto at Adhocracy

A couple of years ago I wrote about Kuka, the RobotLab project built to write the entire Martin Luther bible onto a long roll of paper. The robot emulates the calligraphic style replicated in the Schwabacher blackletter typeface, writing it using a pen as a (particularly neat and tireless) human might. It’s quite a lovely thing*.

I was reminded of it when I saw this project by Walter Nicolino and Carlo Ratti (of Carlo Ratti Associati). They’ve designed and built a suspended plotter to write the contents of the Open Architecture Manifesto page on Wikipedia onto a wall at the Adhocracy exhibition at the Istanbul Design Biennial. As the text on Wikipedia is updated the robot erases and rewrites the document on the wall at the exhibition.

The comparison between the two projects is perhaps obvious, that one is reproducing a historical, unchanging document, while the other reproduces a brand new, constantly-updating and ephemeral one. Indeed until the manifesto was published in Domus magazine (whose editor Joseph Grima is curator of the biennial) the article kept being deleted by Wikipedia editors.

I’m especially interested how the plotter is reproducing the text. The typeface could be Times, but the generous amount of ink the fat nib of the plotter pen puts down, and the way it outlines the characters, makes it hard to tell exactly. Also, looking at the video the output is a serif face but part of the processing (in Processing) looks like it uses something more like Verdana or Tahoma. Could be that different parts of the text are in different faces of course. Curious.


* Though some people saw it as blasphemy and a sign of the imminent demise of humanity, the Earth, and the entire universe. I had some interesting emails.