Monthly Archives: February 2006

Fonda 500: The Autumn: Winter collection

Fonda 500’s ‘The Autumn: Winter Collection’ was really the inspiration for my ‘Judging albums by their cover’ articles. It has been a habit of mine for some time to discover new music by picking out albums that had covers that I liked, almost 90% of the time it turned out that I loved the music on the album as well. The Autumn: Winter Collection was discovered during one of my frequent rummages through the secondhand stacks at Bigstar Records. I have to admit, I’m a big fan of the ‘looks like a five year old drew the cover’ aesthetic – a style which is harder to pull off than you would probably imagine. I think I may have had in the back of my mind that this album was something that I had read a review for a couple of months earlier – originally thought the band’s name was ‘Autumn’ and the album was called ‘Winter Collection. It was only months later that I discovered ‘Fonda 500 tucked on the CD edge (what I had originally thought was the record label’s name!) I was really drawn to the simplicity of the graphics, basic black and white, handwritten text, naive imagery – it felt Autumn/Winterish, like a memory back to childhood when the seasons seemed all the more defined and more simply separated.

So how does the music relate to the cover graphics? The way I would describe the music is if a 1970’s primary school teacher, taking her classes music lesson, decides to lock her charges in the music room and tells them they have an hour to produce 12 compositions on the theme of Autumn & Winter with the instruments provided – and I mean that in a good way!

This probably falls under the genre of ‘Bedroom Pop’ usually a pejorative, Fonda 500 carry it off with a mischievous imagination. Beach Boy like harmonies, cartoon imagery, weird instruments, out-of-tune guitars, nursery rhyme like lyrics, songs about snowball fights, eating biscuits and duffel coats. The Autumn: Winter Collection validates the fact that minimal budget is no barrier to creating intriguing , lovable, melodic, confusing and frankly wonderful pop music – likewise when it comes to cover graphics.

Do you really need a professional designer to design your logo? Maybe this article will convince you.

Interesting British design blog 30gms. Love the article on Peter Saville’s CMYK garden.

The Audreys fab new album ‘Between Last Night And Us’ gets reviewed by The Age newspaper here. Expect my own review here soon under Judging Albums By Their Cover.

A very large kitty. File under ‘Your cat wants to win The Biggest Loser.’

Maybe I’m looking into this too much, but I can’t help but be bemused by The National Australia Bank’s decision to abbreviate to ‘nab’. The bank has seen it’s share of troubles over the last few years, too boring to go into here, the name change seems ironically appropriate. My dictionary defines ‘nab’ as to snatch or seize suddenly or without knowledge. I don’t know if I’d have a lot of confidence putting my money into an institution so named. Perhaps it’s meant to be social commentary on those sudden bank fees that seem to hit my account if I go anywhere near an ATM machine? Or the sudden massive layoffs of bank employees that are becoming an all too common occurrence? If that’s the case I’ve got to praise them on their honesty at least.

The logo with it’s all lowercase letters is an odd looking mark as well, inelegant to look at and to say – ‘nab’? Roll that over your tongue a few times, this is an improvement over ‘The National’? At least that carried some authority. I’m sure a lot of money was thrown at it to come up with this, so obviously I’m crazy and the nab’s coffers will overflow with the milk and honey of the re-branding success. Now I’m going to go ‘nab’ me some lunch.

Adelaide design firm Nicknack have just updated and relaunched their website with a clean, no-nonsense interface. They are designers for the 2006 Adelaide Fringe, their portfolio demonstrating some great treatments for various applications of the identity to programs, flyers, apparel and the like. They also do work for Nike (the lucky buggers!) nice to see an Adelaide firm working on such a design conscious brand. I really like the work they’ve done for the ‘Brasil’ campaign, looks like it would have been a lot of fun to work on. Overall, a nice mixture of the corporate and the funky, take some time to be inspired.

Architecture In Helsinki: In Case We Die

Design & Music would seem to be a perfect match. Art and design school seem to be filled with would-be-musicians, and many a well known band has found it’s genesis in one of these institutions over the years. It comes as some what of a mystery then, why there remains so many really badly designed album covers. A lot of output from the major labels can be put down to the machinations of their marketing departments. Primarily they are releasing albums to move product, therefore they are trying to create an ‘image’ of the artist, an ‘ideal’ that their intended market (whether this be teenage girls are whatever) want to aspire to, rather than an interpretation of the specifics of the music (in a lot of cases there wouldn’t be that much to work from anyway). The independent release has a lot more freedom and hence, the results of the cover artwork should be better, unfortunately there are still a lot of roadblocks in the way to stymie this. Bands just starting out and releasing their first album are often still finding their feet as far as style and image. They are invariably short of cash and any money they do have is usually put into producing the best recording they can, using a designer for cover artwork is probably last on their list of priorities. This leaves the design of the cover up to the most ‘capable’ band member or a friend who has some artistic ability (or at least knows how to use Publisher! 🙂

The fall-back and easiest position is to usually copy the aesthetic style of their musical idols and inspiration (as best they can) rather than establishing their own visual identity. This can work ok as long as all the members agree on this aesthetic – the worse case scenario is the ‘design by committee’. This happens when everyone from friends, family, partners, their hairdresser (she’s really artistic!) put their two cents in over the design. What results is a cover that tries to incorporate everything and please everyone, but ultimately portrays nothing other than a confusing, unappealing morass.

Sometimes bands get lucky though, and actually have a member with design talent and an individual vision – such is the case with Architecture In Helsinki’s ‘In Case We Die’. The advantages of being an independent band with their own label are self -evident on the cover. It’s doubtful that a major label would find the artwork of front-man Cameron Bird particularly marketable, even though it perfectly parallels the bands style – a handmade aesthetic. It combines childlike scribbles and free-hand fonts with a clear, colourful, hand-drawn style. The band photos on the inside cover are playfully coloured, scribbled upon and drawn around in a spontaneous, random manner, much like the band introduces unusual instrumentation and lyric structure to the songs. Architecture In Helsinki quite literally wear their independence on their sleeve.

The Adelaide Fringe began in 1960 as an alternative to the Adelaide Festival of Arts, an ‘open access event’ that allows anyone with ideas, enthusiasm (and admittedly, the registration fees!) to be part of the program. It has grown over the years to become perhaps the second biggest arts festival of it’s kind, only eclipsed by the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the spirit of an ‘open access event’ the promotional poster is chosen each year by a contest that is open to the public, a method that you can probably imagine has produced mixed results over the years. It’s probably the most ‘well entered’ contest of it’s kind in Adelaide, a favourite among students and professional designers alike that have dominated the submissions in recent years (it seems every third or fourth Fringe that they try to regain their open access policy by awarding the winning entry to someone who isn’t studying or employed as a designer:)

The past few years, the Fringe has also been big on giving the event a specific ‘theme’ to help direct the would-be designers in their interpretation (I guess this theme encompasses the Fringe as a whole as well).The theme for 2006 is ‘Re-generation’ and the idea of re-inventing itself. Winner of this years poster contest was Roger Tiley, a designer at uber-great local design firm Do-Da. He chose to interpret the theme of re-generation by recycling previous years posters into origami cranes.

As far as conveying said theme – it’s not bad as concepts go – it of course depends largely on the viewer being familiar with past posters to get it’s point across, easy if you have a mind for remembering past designs, but as designers we often forget that a poster such as this is an immediate thing and probably forgotten by the general public a week after the event finishes. Anyway, ok as a concept, but if you’re really going to dip into the history of an event approaching it’s 50th anniversary – re-inventing itself – it would suggest to me that you might want to dip a bit further into that history and use some posters that cover a greater timeline than the last 8 years. Does the Fringe really need to re-invent itself from the last 8 years? To be fair, I would hazard a guess that it has more to do with the availability of past posters to fold, than deliberately snubbing earlier posters.

The Adelaide Fringe Website goes into great lengths in justifying the use of the paper crane on the poster. You can read it here,
they seem to be drawing a pretty long bow in my opinion, tying it into Hiroshima victims, Japanese legends and the perfect symbol of peace – pretty heady stuff! My first reaction when I saw the poster was, ‘Well if you’re going to use origami, a crane is the obvious piece of folding to use so people know that it is origami. The explanation smacks a little bit of the ‘bullshit’ that we designers use to justify our amazing design creations to a client. You know how it goes – you design it, you love it, you need to find a way to re-assure the client that their trust and money spent is warranted. My apologies to Roger if the design did stem from his deep thoughts into the matter, it sounds pretty heavy going for an event that has previously been represented by a pink reindeer and a close up of someone’s tonsils.

As nicely folded as the paper crane is, it’s not the most dynamic visual you can imagine, it’s a little sedate, which is ok, but to me the Fringe is all about life and movement – it’s a two week blast of comedy, music & theatre, a chance to try new things and to laugh and take in the vibe surrounding you. The poster needs to draw you into the event – a paper crane just isn’t doing that for me.

The finished poster was done in conjunction with designers for this years Fringe ‘Nicknack’. An organic, handrawn headline works well against the precisely folded crane to the extent that it’s actually a lot more exciting than it. With some more work I feel that the type treatment could have been the basis for the whole poster and still have fitted in with the Fringe’s much touted re-generation theme. I like the teal background as well – you can never have enough teal – I think I might paint my bedroom in it! 🙂

All that said, the poster is out there, tickets are selling, the Fringe people are happy with it, Roger Tiley is going to Malaysia (or where ever his prize was to!) and I’m not – maybe I should enter next time and put my money where my mouth is!

A quick note to the Fringe regarding the poster’s size. Normally the poster is printed up A1-A0 sizes, the largest I’ve seen is A2 and mostly I’ve seen it at a puny A4. It looks like a flyer for a Primary School fete at this size. I know they had the extra costs of printing four different posters (in full colour no-less) but the Fringe poster needs to be seen around town AS BIG AS POSSIBLE! Especially with the delicate nature of this years imagery.

The Hall of Knowledge is a fantastic hand lettered, entirely typographic comic strip.

Polish designers seem to be given a lot of leeway when it comes to producing posters for Hollywood films, take a look at these amazing, weird and wonderful takes on some well known movies in this gallery courtesy of Retrocrush.

Fantastic music clip of the week by Paris collective Pleix. File under ‘your dog craves techno’.

The Knockoff Project displays album covers that spoof, honour or simply rip-off other album covers.

I’m now officially a ‘designer who blogs.’