Thursday, February 24, 2011

boxed fascism

By Robin

In November the British Medical Association renewed their call for a ban on printed cigarette packaging. This prompted me to reminisce over the cigarette advertising from my youth, the amazingly emotive posters of both the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands. Despite the restrictions of the time, these ads remained stunning works of abstract art modern advertisers and artists will never again achieve.

In 1998 a phased ban on cigarette advertising began, ending in a total ban in 2003. Before the 2005 general election the Labour party manifesto promised a ban on smoking in all public places that serve food only. After the general election an outright smoking ban was implemented - never trust a politician...

Pubs are now closing at a rate of 39 a week. A World Health Organisation study into the effects of passive smoking found that the risk of a non smoker getting lung cancer after being exposed to smoke is - in their words - "a statistically insignificant 0.01%". The ban has been seen by many as an assault on their civil liberties and freedom to decide for themselves if smoking is worth the risk and extortionate taxes demanded for the habit.

The BMA's moves to ban printed cigarette packaging comes after a report into Ireland's ban on all point of sale advertising. The report states that "there were no short-term significant changes in prevalence among youths or adults", clearly stating that the Irish ban has had little effect on cigarette sales. Despite this contradiction the BMA and powerful anti-smoking lobbyists are pushing ahead with their demands. Judging by the history of cigarette advertising they are very likely to achieve their goals.

This, to me, is a tragedy. I have many friends working for design companies, proofing and mockup houses who rely on tobacco companies for their livelihood. This ban would overnight rob them of their jobs and security, and rob our industry of skills, crafts and disciplines we should all be proud of. This is not just an ill conceived attack on our liberties, but an attack on an industry already at its knees through no fault of its own.

It almost makes me want to take up smoking, almost...

Monday, February 14, 2011


During November of last year I attended an exhibition of the work of Gerd Arntz (writes Martin). Coming from a sign making background, I have a fascination with pictograms and how to condense information down to a quickly understandable visual.

During my time at university I looked into a system of pictograms created in the 1920s by social scientist Otto Neurath and graphic designer Gerd Arntz, called the Isotype system.

Neurath and Arntz set out to create a universally understandable visual language that could convey the information of an unwieldy amount of text, to accompany (less) written text.

4,000 signs were created, and were used for symbolising data from industry, demographics, politics and economy, either on charts or as info graphics. All of the icons sit together visually as they follow guidelines to keep the collection standardised. This means they can be altered to symbolise more specific subjects - for example the symbol for man can easily be customised to show that he works as a baker by overlaying the symbol for a loaf of bread.

Today the legacy of such ventures is evident in everyday life. From road signs to the little boys’ room symbol, such things are universal and we all have no doubt as to what they are. Although this makes sense, from a design point of view it is more interesting to see established pictogram norms broken. Something that has always stuck with me is the - now defunct - identity for the Royal Armouries Museum, which included figures from history pointing the way.

These pictograms not only did the job of standard pictograms but also took influence from the museum itself and helped to define a recognisable identity.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

our favourite holiday destinations

With winter starting to drag, thoughts can't help but turn to getting away from it all, so it seems like a good time to post the latest in our "favourite things" series...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

inspiring toys

Last week I read about a sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn titled ‘Vroom Vroom’, placed outside the Dorchester Hotel, and it really caught my attention, so I jumped on the tube that very evening and headed down to Park Lane to see it in the flesh (writes Sachin).

I was amazed by the 13ft high sculpture of a child’s hand pushing a vintage Fiat 500, placed between the central reservations before a set of traffic lights, to catch the attention of passing drivers. Artist Lorenzo Quinn created the sculpture to symbolise a part of his independence, freedom and personal growth.

Seeing it sparked great memories in my mind of my childhood and my desire to one day own a yellow Lamborghini Diablo with its magnificent scissor doors and sharp edges.

When I was young I always had a toy car in my pocket, and played with it wherever and whenever I possibly could. I remember making a racket, humming the sound of a car engine. I would drive my car on the carpet and up the stair rail, scratching off the paintwork. I'd create buildings, garages, ramps and tunnels using old cardboard boxes, plastic containers and toilet roll tubes.

The best trick of all was when I used to smuggle my cars into the bathroom, wrapped in my towel, hidden away from my mum. I would play with them around the tub and at the bottom, imagining I was driving deep under the ocean. I had to smuggle them in because my mum used to go crazy at all the scratches I made in the tub, and boy did I get a telling off every time!

I also remember collecting vouchers from the back of cereal boxes, magazines and the Shell petrol station, gradually getting enough to buy a new car to add to my huge collection.

I remember the excitement of getting my cars home, getting the screwdriver out the tool box and unscrewing the car from the stand it came attached to in the box, then taking them for a spin. I had a finger duster made from a piece of dust cloth and I used to polish my cars just like my dad did, keeping the collectable ones in pristine condition.

My favourite car of all time was - and still is - the yellow Lamborghini Diablo. I had the amazing Bburago model that felt and looked like the really thing. It was my most precious toy, beautifully crafted with realistic detail, from the texture of the seats, the look of the dials, the engine, the metal body kit and best of all a steering wheel that worked! You could put your finger through the window and steer the car along.

Back then, I always dreamt of owning my very own, and the dream still lives on...

Friday, February 4, 2011

periodic type

I can still remember that 'light bulb' moment, in my school boy days, when the Chemistry teacher revealed the "Period Table of Elements" (writes Peter).

Ping! Now I understood why metal rusted and plastic didn't. That Krypton really existed. And Copper, Silver and Gold all looked shiny because they were related.

As it turned out chemicals never featured much in my working life. But typefaces did and became an obsession.

Sadly, I started to notice how over the past few years my interest in typefaces has blurred. I've changed from highly opinionated to confused when it comes to choice. Maybe too much time spent with default browser fonts combined with less and less work in printed graphics? (I've not smelt printing ink for ages.)

I'd come to accept my 'typeface compass' had broken. Like computer music loops, own brand cereal packs and reasonably priced cars - they'd all started to sound and look the same. Maybe time for an overdue 'light bulb' moment?

Queue my discovery of the truly remarkable, absorbing, fascinating and unbelievably clever "Periodic Table of Typefaces".

Ping! Now I rediscovered why Helvetica is a truly elemental typeface. And why Gotham and Trajan are unlikely to react well together. Or why Baskerville, Garamond or Caslon are worth considering for typesetting novels or reference books.

However, I have noticed that there's one highly explosive, dangerous, and volatile typeface which hasn't made the table. I'm pleased. Bye bye Comic Sans !

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

typographic travels #01

The first in an occasion series from Nik. As a well seasoned traveller and total type obsessive, Nik takes shots of any typographic inspiration he encounters along the way. Nik says "I like the good, the bad and - more often than not - the ugly! The worst typography can sometimes be the most beautiful". We've persuaded him to share some of the photos he's captured on his travels for both work and pleasure...

#1: Fazer, Helsinki, Finland
Just a giant, beautiful slab of almost brutal Russian-esque typography with a weird art-nouveau twist. Check out the beautiful 'A' and that bonkers 'R'. Love it!