writing


Surface exchange

During this year I’ve been growing tired of my use of Instagram, to the stage where recently when posting something, I thought to myself: “god I’m really starting to bore myself here.” I suspect this is mostly due to not getting out so much over the last couple of years, (for obvious reasons), and when I have been doing so, it is to surroundings all too familiar—the same walk to work, the same walk to the local Coop, the same workplace, etc. And while there are interesting things to be found in studies of the everyday, after 2 years without…

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Graphic commons: make do and mend

Getting out and about in recent weeks has bought a renewed attention on my part to the graphic commons, and in particular, road markings. I noticed a few ‘make do and mend’ type repairs to road markings over the last year on some of my constitutionals, but their prevalence has only really struck me recently. I assumed, wrongly, that these were simply bodged jobs by one or two contractors, but apparently not. They are everywhere, in Ipswich at least. These occur where there have been road works and the contractors hired to dig up the road only repaint existing markings…

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New old content

I am pleased to be able to add links to pdfs of two of my previously out-of-print publications to this website. My first foray into publishing took the form of a self-published photobook and essay titled McJunk in 2011. This documented an eight year obsession of photographing McDonald’s litter when ever I came across it. What started out as a personal observational project, turned into a critique of the relationship between graphic design and disposable culture. I can trace much of my current research practice from this publication, and despite there being many things about it I would change now,…

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Notes on a no show—12 months on

12 months ago, on 11 June 2020, I wrote the words below on my iPhone on the occasion of not being able to have an End of Year Show exhibition of student Graphic Design and Illustration work due to the Covid-19 lockdown. I left the words sitting on my phone, not quite able to publish them. One year on, and I have similar feelings, but at least this year I am able to celebrate with a few students who are in Ipswich and colleagues who can make it along to a small socially distanced and heavily sanitised gathering outside the…

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Repetition repetition repetition

After a tutorial with a student who spoke of having what they thought might be RSI last year, I decided to deliver a lecture on the subject. It isn’t untypical for students to start to develop RSI symptoms in their final year of study, as they cram for their dissertations and towards their last assignments. However, after listening to this student it struck me that 2020/21 being what is was, with far more students studying from home or halls, without having the breaks of coming into sessions on campus, it was likely that the number of undergraduates RSI may affect…

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In a de boomtown

Almost 40 years ago to the day, Ghost Town by The Specials was released. It came at a time when uprisings were tearing through Brixton and other major towns and cities in Britain. At the time, watching the video for the single on TV as it went to Number 1 in the charts, with the lead item on all news bulletins being of fighting between inner city youth and the police with burning cars and buildings as the visual backdrop, Ghost Town seemed prescient and to aurally depict the tension of the streets. The video, directed by graphic designer Barney…

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And the answer is…

On Monday evening I went to an online design talk, and for the first time ever of attending such things, the organiser put us into break-out groups for 5 minutes at the start. I wasn’t quite sure why this was happening, and couldn’t see a connection to the talk, but I went with it. In groups of 4 or 5 we were tasked with discussing ‘what is good design?’ It was interesting to hear what some of the others in my break-out had to say, and there was plenty of chat about aesthetics, with one person stating good design was…

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Virtually speaking, part 2

Today at 12 noon I watched a talk by Malcolm Garrett, the graphic designer famous for his work with Buzzcocks, Magazine and Duran Duran, amongst many others. Hosted by designer Patrick Thomas under the title Icons, this was part of a series of online talks held on Saturdays for art and design students during the current worldwide coronavirus lockdowns. It was an amazing talk and I got to hear many of the stories behind record sleeves I know intimately. Both Thomas and Garrett were generous with their time—scheduled for 45 minutes, I bailed out needing some lunch at the 2…

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Griffics—Play for today

Past the age of 13, what does the word ‘play’ mean to most people? As a teenager advancing towards adulthood, there is the temptation to reject the word, seeing play as too childish as one desperately tries to appear ‘grown-up’. For many adults, I suspect, the word remains associated with their pre-teen life.  For me, Antoine De Saint-Exupéry addresses best how adults can negatively look on childhood play in his book The Little Prince. When talking about some drawings created as a child of a boa constrictor that adults mistake for a hat, the book’s narrator says: “The grown-ups advised me…

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Question answered

I attended an online talk last night about the Festival of Britain, hosted by the Twentieth Century Society. Delivered by Geoffrey Hollis and supported by Elain Harwood, there were some fascinating photographs shown of London’s South Bank, and background information given on many of the architectural details of the structures and buildings constructed for the event. The talk also answered something that had been puzzling me for a few years. In 2017, I came across some benches in Lincolnshire with Abram Games famous festival logo cast into their concrete sides. Unsure why they would be there, no amount of research…

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Graphic commons: End of year dérive

Date: 29.12.2020Distance: 5 milesSteps: 10,812Start: 13:34Ground covered: Residential to industrial area to dockside, return via town centre side-streets and residential areas As the end of the year looms I felt it was appropriate to head out into Tier 4 territory for one last dérive of 2020. Fearing a Tier 5 being implemented, given the dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases in Ipswich, this may also be my last chance for a while. While I didn’t set out to end up at the quay again, my feet took me there anyway. And as familiar as this territory is after my last drift…

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200 2020 days

As we head towards the end of 2020, I predict many write-ups will state it was a year like no other. I’ll hold judgement on that—we haven’t had 2021 yet, after all. December is, however, the time of year when annual round-ups happen, and for me, one of the most interesting projects I have seen in the last 12 months has been by Becky King. King is Creative Director at the London office of branding agency Dragon Rouge, and has spent much of this year sharing her responses to being in lockdown on her Instagram account. While this itself has…

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Graphic commons: an unexpected drift

Date: 10.12.2020Distance: 2.4 milesSteps: 5271Start: 07:37Ground covered: Residential area to dockside, return via university campus What started as simple exercise, to try to stave off a bad back from sitting at a desk for far too many hours, turned into a drift; the first one proper since my Lockdown 1.0 Constitutionals side project back in April. Although I have been out walking for exercise now and again in recent months, these occasions have been few and far between, and mostly involved a round-about trip to one of our many local Coops. And while I started on this occasion only intending…

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We are type—125 years of St Bride Library

I have been fortunate enough to visit St Bride Library a number of times. I’ve mostly been for graphic design conferences or evening talks hosted by Eye Magazine. For the uninitiated, St Bride Library, just off Fleet Street in London, includes an events hall, a large archive of typographic, graphic design and publishing related books, and a printshop that hosts hands-on letterpress, engraving and book-binding workshops. It is so steeped in all-things print, that I am always disappointed that Swarfega doesn’t come out to the soap dispensers in the toilets whenever I have been there. 2020 sees the library celebrate…

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Fluff and nonsense

Recently on Facebook I posted the following video by Mike Rich from the Steering YouTube channel. In it he discusses whether Graphic Design could be considered art. This is an often discussed topic, particularly amongst design students. I certainly have very firm views on the subject, and contend that they are different disciplines. As a result I find it difficult not to be drawn in to such debates. In response to posting the video, several friends commented with their views—some defensively, some more measured. Most were people who identify themselves as artists, or designer/artists, and their different takes on the…

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First Things First: 2020

In amongst recent events, maybe for good reason, I missed that a new First Things First manifesto was launched in May. A more radical and critical version, and one that certainly gets my signature. This time around, as well as signing your support, you can help to rewrite the manifesto itself by submitting your opinions. There are also links to the history of the manifesto over its previous iterations of 1964, 2000 and 2014, and links to resources to help support the conscious designer.

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Virtually speaking

I recently wrote an article for Eye magazine’s blog about the wealth of online talks and interviews that have sprung up as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown. These have been a godsend to my students, and I’m sure a great many more. I go on to write about my hope that such initiatives continue post-Covid, in particular for the sake of students from the regions, (and around the world), who can’t afford to access talks in London and other big cities. You can read the post here.

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Mainstream discussions on graphic design

Mainstream media doesn’t often do graphic design, and when it does it rarely does it seriously. Preference is more often given over to art, architecture, interior design, photography and fashion. On the odd occasion when an appropriately critical article does appear, (one that does not claim that the journalist’s 6 year old daughter could have done a better job at designing a logo), then graphic design as a discipline is not mentioned. Take this report from November 2019 about Facebook’s rebrand, which covers the topics of typography, colour, semiotics and visual identity. In the post’s category tags, technology and business…

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ACDHE review—The graphic design process

I recently wrote a review of the 2019 Bloomsbury title: The Graphic Design Process: How to be Successful in Design School by Anitra Nottingham and Jeremy Stout, for the journal Art, Communication & Design in Higher Education. The book explores the design process through varying approaches to graphic design education—from brief to crit to exploratory practice to presenting outcomes—with contributions from university and college lecturers from around the world. The review is available to purchase here, and the journal here.

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Newsprint isn’t dead, yet

Just before lockdown I had several conversations with colleagues and students about whether newspapers would survive Covid-19. At the prospect of newsagents and train stations closing for months on end, and assuming these are the prime retailers for newspapers outside of people having them delivered, I predicted the situation could be devastating for printed journalism. As people who are used to consuming their news through inkies are forced to switch to app and online counterparts, I wondered whether they would ever go back to print, post-pandemic. Despite the fact that printed papers aren’t financially sustainable in the modern age anyway,…

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Constitutionals

Since I wrote Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives, I have started to upload photos taken on my daily #coronawalks to a dedicated Instagram feed called Constitutionals. It features much more of a variety of observations than just the graphic or typographic, as written about here, and is more typical of my usual Instagram feed. Depending on the amount of photographs I take, and my post-walk editing decisions, each addition has so far ranged from one to 21 photos. However, as Instagram restrictions only allow you to add a maximum of 10 photos in any one post, several days have multiple entries.

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Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives

Making the most of the ‘sanctioned’ time I am allowed out to exercise during the UK government’s coronavirus pandemic ‘lockdown’, I have been drifting through my neighbourhood on a daily basis for the last week. Despite the awkwardness of swapping sides of the road every time I see someone coming in my direction, this has allowed me to visually re-engage with the Graphic Commons of this area of east Ipswich. I know these streets well from the many dog walks my wife and I have done around our locale. Or so I thought. However, with our dog a year gone,…

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Insidiousness

In response to the worldwide epidemic of COVID-19 there is an inevitability to the words …And Wash Your Hands, replacing …And Carry On, as the coda to Keep Calm and Carry On posters. Given that news of the spread of the virus has the ability to produce widespread panic, any populist measures to get health messages across to stem a pandemic should be welcomed. However, on any mention of that original poster, I can not help but be reminded of its insidious nature. For those unfamiliar with the origin of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, it was meant to be kept…

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A question of signs

A couple of weeks ago I took the above picture at Felixstowe docks, finding it interesting to see a group of signs in what appeared to be a holding pen, waiting to be distributed as need-be around the busy port. After editing the image to post to Flickr at the weekend, I wondered what the collective noun was for a collection of signs, so I posted the simple question to Twitter. Below are some of the excellent replies I got. @gray was the first off the mark with a reference to the Signs director: A Shyamalan of signs. Several took…

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The times they are a-changin’

I recently wrote here about frustrations I was having with how my iPhone displayed album sleeves on its Music app. Since then I’ve been somewhat forced to sign-up to Apple Music to get over this, (and other), issues with the app. In doing so it feels like I have made a major shift in some of my long-held behaviours; this is not just in regard to how I listen to music, but also to my relationship with music visuals. In discussing this personal cultural change to how I ‘buy’ and own music over on A Different Kitchen, I pondered whether I…

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The Fundamentals of Graphic Design

It was an honour to have my revision of The Fundamentals of Graphic Design published by Bloomsbury recently. It was a daunting job to take on, given how good the original edition by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris was. Early on I decided I didn’t want to radically alter vast amounts of what they had written—after all, most of the fundamentals haven’t changed. However, given the advances in technology since the first edition, it was clear my main job was to make sure the title reflected contemporary design contexts. In my first research sessions for the title in 2017, it…

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Mainly Museums: PHM

I was honoured to be asked to write something for the Mainly Museums website recently, and decided very quickly that it would be good to champion Manchester’s Peoples History Museum, (PHM), on the site. My choice was influenced by the fact PHM tells its story through the graphic accoutrements of political activity; from trade union banners to posters, from badges to membership cards, from propaganda leaflets to magazine covers. This visual telling brings the story alive of the fight for social justice, not just in the North of England, but across the UK and internationally. I would urge anyone to…

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My iPhone hates me

I think my iPhone hates me, it has recently been swapping the album artwork of one band for another. This is very much a first world problem, I know. But it does feel very personal. My phone, for all its ‘smartness’, must know how important graphic design and music are to me. I use the Music app everyday of the week to listen to new and old sounds on my walk to work. I post and read about graphic design on many social media apps and blogs I follow just as often. My phone won’t know that it was album sleeves…

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Aesthetics of convenience

In the first of a series of publications that investigate different aspects of the graphic commons, Aesthetics of Convenience explores the vinyl window displays of convenience stores. Through a photographic and textual discussion of how these ‘little and often’ shop window displays affect human behaviour and environmental ambiences, the paper seeks to encourage a discussion about the visual culture of public spaces, as imposed on those that live in, or pass through them. Published as a 20 page numbered limited edition tabloid newspaper, Aesthetics of Convenience brings together my own explorative photographs taken on numerous dérives, and a 1250 word essay…

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Graphic commons: Tunnel and peripheral vision

Distance: 3.7 miles Steps: 8113 Start: 06:25 Ground covered: Feeder roads into and out of Ipswich town centre; pedestrianised shopping precincts; town centre. It has been a while since I last did a dedicated graphic commons walk; 2017 in fact. More recent graphic commons posts have mainly been about walks taken as part of other activities. This reengagement is due to the resurrection of a graphic commons project that was put on-hold a few years ago—that of a series of publications dedicated to specific categories of the commons as I see them. The other commitments that took precedent over that…

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