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Was It Worth The Effort?

Most people who watch an average amount of commercial television and certainly most people with an interest in the design arts would have seen the advert for Sony Bravia Television featuring a multitude of coloured balls bouncing down a street to the tune of Jose Gonzalez’s ‘Heartbeat’ tune. The amazing thing about the advert,, of course, is the scale of it, a quarter of a million bouncy balls were fired from 10 specially constructed giant cannons onto a San Francisco street that was cleared for the shoot – and it was all shot in camera. It has received a lot of praise for it’s scope, it’s lack of computer trickery, and it is a beautiful and sublime piece of advertising. Having seen the advert a number of times, it very much looks like it was produced using CGI – I would hazard a guess that 90% of people watching it who aren’t aware of how it was produced would think so as well. So the question posed is – a lot of respect that this advert has garnered is over it’s ‘hands on approach’ to production, but if the majority of your audience is unaware of this, does it dampen the impact? Was it worth going to all the expense and trouble to produce something that looks so computer generated, something that could have looked the same at a fraction of the cost, and the audience still none the wiser?

Design Heroes – Peter Saville

Most Graphic Designers have their personal design heroes whose work has influenced and inspired them in their creative endeavors, there’s a whole industry devoted to it judging by the number of graphic designer monographs out there snapped up by an eager audience. When I started at University, the Neville Brody worship was on the wane and Duffy & Charles S Anderson where emerging as the idols that launched a million design graduate portfolios. By the time I had finished my degree, David Carson and Emigre were influencing the legions of professional designer wannabes.

My first professional work being in the music industry, the designers I looked up to tended to be those producing the look of music graphics, Art Chantry, Oliver Vaughan, Dirk Rudolph and of course Peter Saville’s album covers for Factory Records. Though I’ve never really followed his aesthetics of his austere style in my own designs, he’s been a big influence on how I approach and think about design. My favourite comments on design from Saville have been his opinion that a piece of design doesn’t need to be blatantly self evident – that the viewer should be given enough credence and respect to be able to grasp the function and concept of, say, a particular logo without the designer merely stooping to visual puns, I’m quoting out of memory here, but I believe he set the example of a stylish restaurant, people who would frequent such a restaurant would be able to grasp that it is a stylish, sophisticated, upmarket establishment by the designer using an informed choice of font that reflects that, rather than, say a pictogram of a plate, knife and fork to represent it. Unfortunately, for every informed comment he makes, there seems to be an equal amount of gibberish and self posturing. He skirts dangerously close to that precipice that separates a designer from an ‘artist’ and has often commented that he never really wanted to be a designer and merely became one by circumstance (we should all be so lucky with those circumstances!)

He’s left a lasting legacy on album cover design and visual communication in general. You can find a good biography on him here on Wikipedia.

Furry Fuhrers

Cats seem like and endless source of inspiration on the web. Site makers seem fascinated by our furry companions, joining popular sites like Bonsai Kitten & Stuff on my Cat is Hitler Cats. You read that right, as the moggie above us demonstrates, this is a site dedicated to cats that resemble Hitler. Okay, maybe it’s not exactly politically correct, but it’s called a sense of humour and one of the funniest things I’ve come across in quite a while. This must be what the web was created for! I’m sure all of us have had experiences with cats where that gleam in their eye seemed to indicate something more ‘what’s for dinner tonight?’ The picture of that cat above freaks me out the more I look at it, the resemblance is uncanny….

I’ve had my own experience with a Furry Fuhrer. A previous girlfriend had a cat called Max who looked pretty close to the cat above, we were convinced he was the reincarnation of the maniacal dictator himself. He was a cat with some deep psychological problems and some anger issues to work out. One minute he would be lying pleasantly on your lap purring, the next he would be going for your throat unprovoked, claws and fangs bared. It wasn’t uncommon for me to hear a shriek from another part of the house, only to run out and find my girlfriend bailed up in a corner, water pistol in one hand, cushion in another fending Max off. I don’t know what became of Max, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s plotting to invade Poland at this moment though.

So what does this have to do with design? Well… ummm… doesn’t nature work in some mysterious ways!

Designers Who Are Better Than Me

Parallax Design wants you to know that they sell imagination, (personally I prefer to only lend mine out on weekdays and make sure it’s back by six) it’s a good thing they have plenty on offer because at these prices you’d be crazy to shop for your imagination anywhere else. Parallax is run by ‘pal ‘o mine’ from my Uni days Matthew Remphrey and after a few years in business he’s finally put up an honest to gosh website for us to all ooh and ahh over (and you will!)

I’ve probably talked about Matthew’s work on this blog more than anyone’s, particularly his work on the recent Adelaide Festival of Arts, hopefully he doesn’t want to punch me in the face next time I run into him, but Parallax are producing some very recognisable and awarded work at the moment, right from the heart of little old Adelaide.

A little history on Matthew from my perspective, he went through the Illustration stream at the University of South Australia’s Bachelor of Design course at the same time I did Visual Communication (proof that in the final analysis, it probably didn’t matter which stream you chose to follow). After graduating he formed a design/marketing company called Punch! with fellow graduate Andrew Rice which lasted for a couple of years. Andrew decided to move interstate and Matthew moved onto IK Design where he quickly began to produce some impressive design work that earned him many national and international design awards as well as being featured in all the big graphic design publications such as Graphis and Communication Arts. An overseas trip to the US contributed to the inspiration to go out on his own and form Parallax.

I think you can still see some of the influence of those IK Design years, especially in the SA Tourism ‘Brilliant Blend’ mark, but if you look at the identity work he did on Mexican Burritto outlet “Burp’ there’s a definite growth away from anything I could imagine IK Design producing. This identity is a perfect example of the ‘simpatico’ that parallax seems to manage with their clients, not only is it extremely appropriate and well produced, it’s also a lot of fun and light years away from your typical fast-food outlet identity, this is a piece that respects the intelligence of both the client and their customers.

In a recent article on Parallax, Matthew held that the idea is central to the core of what Parallax produces, if the viewer can’t immediately grasp your idea then it’s failed in it’s purpose, I suspect he holds a little more leeway in that regard. The work he has produced for the Epilepsy Association, Adelaide Festival of Arts and Living Cell Technologies seem to leave some room for the viewer to explore and discover, some trust that they’ll grasp to the concept, and to me, they are all the better for it, being some of the standout pieces in his portfolio.

The Epilepsy Association identity in particular is a great example off effective communication on what I imagine was a fairly tight budget and for a difficult and delicate subject matter.

So take a look through the site’s portfolio section for a dose of inspiration, I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of it in the upcoming Australian Graphic Design Awards.

Judging albums by their cover

Eskimo Joe: Black Fingernails Red Wine

Eskimo Joe’s third longplayer finds the band once known for quirky tunes like ‘The Sweater Song’ taking a decidedly darker and introspective turn, one I’m all for – I hate ‘The Sweater Song’ with a passion and was pleasantly surprised by the step up they took in their song writing skills with second album ‘A Song Is a City’.

They’re not afraid to change and adapt with the times which is to be applauded – with the new album they seem to be searching for a larger sound and larger audience. Lots of reviews talk about the ‘stadium sound’ of the album, I’m not convinced of that, but I can definitely hear a play for the hearts and wallets, of say, the multitude of Coldplay/Interpol fans out there. There’s certainly and earnestness to it, almost a plea to be taken seriously as sophisticated ensemble, moving beyond the realms of disposable pop into something more mature, what better way to emphasise this than to put some ‘Art’ on the cover?

Despite what I feel about some of their earliest musical efforts, the band have always had a strong visual presence in regards to their album covers and music clips. The cover to ‘Black Fingernails Red Wine’ feels like a definite and positive continuation of the beautiful artwork incorporated in their previous release ‘A Song Is a City’. The impressionistic, dark brushstroke aesthetic is quite appropriate to what you might expect to hear on the album upon hearing the first single (the title track in fact) with it’s brooding, growing intensity.

That being said, a little bit of that treatment in both graphics and sound goes a long way. Unfortunately, in both instances on this album they overstay their welcome a little. The designers have decided to ‘go for broke’ with the cover painting and cut and spliced it throughout the whole CD booklet. The type treatment on the cover feels more ‘marketing compromise’ than design intent – almost like a guy in a suit and ponytail looking at the intended cover painting and saying ‘They can have their arty shit as long as we make the title and artist name as chunky as possible! A more delicate approach to the type would have been more effective – in fact removal of the text all together, to be paced on the inside spine would have given the alum cover much more impact. The band sold 100,00+ copies of their previous album, they’ve got the fanbase there to purchase this one, they’re big enough to get away with it.

In the final analysis, and after a couple of listens, I would say the artwork as a package reflects an album that initially offers a lot of promise, but unfortunately gets mired in it’s attempts to prove itself worthwhile and deep but accessible to the major radio listener.

Designers Who Are Better Than Me

Fusion are a well known and respected Adelaide design firm, who for the past ten years have been mostly working in the fields of multimedia and online design solutions. They started out as the proverbial two blokes working out of a back room and have grown into one of Adelaide’s largest and most awarded design companies.

While they already had an impressive print design division under the helm of David Zhu, recently this arm of the company has grown with the appointment of my former workmate, Chris Cooper, and a merger with local outfit Do-Da (covered in a previous ‘Designers Who Are Better Than Me’ article). Some nice work has been coming out of here, they picked up a couple of gongs at the latest Adelaide Art Director’s Awards, and have been receiving a lot of attention for a series of beautiful glass murals they designed in conjunction with designer/artist Gerry Wedd for the new Adelaide Airport Terminal.

The Fusion website demonstrates a lot of interesting website solutions for a variety of clients if you’re into that sort of thing. The actual interface of their site isn’t all that exciting, I guess it’s a ‘let the work speak for itself’ sort of thing. A pity considering the wealth of talent they have on hand.

Recent Surfing Highlights 8

David Byrne always has something interesting to say up at his web journal, in particularly with this article where he discusses the future of music packaging.

I don’t know whether this is a good idea or not, but it certaininly made me think. Italian Vogue steps out of the comfort zone with these layouts for their magazine

A great new book cover design blog.

The Poster Museum at Wilanow Poland is hosting the 20th International Poster Biennale. you can see present and past winners here.

Music Video Clip Highlights

30gms is a new design blog that I frequent quite often, created by London design firm Fibre. I’ve posted some links from them before, they always have interesting design and non-design snippets to impart upon the masses. Want to know what’s on Kurt Cobain’s Ipod at the moment? Find out here! For me, it’s been a great source for discovering visually stunning music video clips (I’m getting too old to sit up to 3am in the morning watching ‘Rage’). The following are some that have caught my eye.

This film clip for Black Tambourine by Beck has been around for a while. Produced by Associates In Science, this ASCII art extravaganza is a typography lover’s wet dream (probably for programmers as well). It’s a fantastic song as well.

A stunning Australia clip for the band The Presets. Produced by Kris Moyes, it’s a tour-de-force in experimental animation and film-making techniques with a decidedly ‘1980s’ feel.

The antics of the lead singer of the Vines do more to interest me in them than their music ever has (read Karlsson Wilker’s book ‘Tellmewhy’ for some interesting insights into his mania). This music clip produced in ‘claymation’ by Michael Gondry’s brother Oliver manages to be both cool and sort of creepy.

Revenge of the Graduate Portfolio 5

Another week, another stroll down the dusty corridor’s of my graduate portfolio, a place where the 21 year old designer Chris’ creative machinations are reassessed by the jaded, yet ruggedly handsome 30-something Chris, I tread where other designers fear to tread!

The big assignment set during final year was the eponymous Annual Report, another labour saver favourite of lecturers, incorporating all the aspects of Visual Communication that we (should) had learned.

The brief was open (as usual) in regards to who the report would be for. I chose the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. It seemed an obvious choice for me at the time. I’d spent a lot of hours there during my study years, it was a favourite spot to draw, photograph, mope and generally collect my thoughts from the heady pressures of student life, especially midweek when the place was virtually deserted. The old Palm House in particular was a favourite spot of mine, over a century old and in a fairly dilapidated state, it seemed to provide endless inspiration for me in drawings and a stunning ‘happy accident’ photograph that I managed to snap around sunset on afternoon. The Palm House isn’t nearly as interesting since they renovated it a couple of years ago, that’s progress for you I guess.

The Gardens have a good deal of history as far as public gardens in Australia. Of particular interest beyond the variety of exotic native and introduced flora, are the number of public art pieces, statues, fountains, even a monument to Elvis if you believe that. My concept for the visual aspect of the annual report was to merge the flora with these artworks so as to emphasise both. This was achieved by the simplest and most immediate technique available to me, taking photos as transparencies and merging the resulting slides together to produce a single print. An example of the result can be seen above.

What I wanted to achieve was a sort of ‘enchanted forest’ feel, to portray the gardens as a place of new discovery, wonder, tranquility and inspiration, as they were to me rather than just a collection of trees and flowers. I’m not sure my primitive attempts really achieved this, maybe if I has access to photoshop (and knew how to use it!) I might have been able to portray this a little better, but then, maybe I would have lost some of the spontaneity and rawness of it.

As far as a concept goes, I thought it was a good one. I really think at the time the lecturers were more concerned with style over this though (a claim that can be backed up by the uproar that erupted when Design Coordinator Cal Swann tried to get the design department to look a little deeper into their concepts choosing a ‘nice’ typeface. Overall, my shots were let down by my inability to communicate what I wanted outside of an audience who had spent as much time roaming through the gardens as I had!

Revenge of the Graduate Portfolio 4

I never intended when I entered the Visual Communication course at The University of South Australia to become a graphic designer. I barely even knew what one was, let alone had any idea that is was something you could make a career out of, the careers course I took at high school still had ‘ticket writing’ as a job option for the individuals with artistic leanings wishing to apply their skills to the real world.

Through my life I like to draw, it was a past-time, but also something that I focused on as a future profession. While other kids wanted to be an astronaut or a race-car driver, I was dreaming of being a cartoonist, as I grew older and started to more seriously grasp the realities of ‘real world’ skill applications, I began to think that maybe I could illustrate children’s books or at least be somehow involved in commercial illustration. It was with this some what vague plan that I applied for, and was accepted into The Uni of SA Bachelor of Design course.

At the time, (we’re talking late 80s here) the course was set up so as both illustration and visual communication students did a two year combined foundation course (in the first year, all the design disciplines were pretty much combined in a foundation course, this included industrial design, ceramics, jewelry, human environments and graphics) so everyone got a grounding in the disciplines of both streams – typography, life drawing, graphics, photography, illustration, print-making, even wood and metal working – it was a pretty good system. After the two years, you split off into your preferred discipline, illustration or visual communication – it turned out to be a valuable system, because after that two years I discovered that concentrating on illustration wasn’t for me.

A couple of things led me to that decision. I could see that while some of my classmates were progressing in leaps and bounds with their illustration skills, I wasn’t progressing very far at all, my marks in illustration were just average, I was doing much better in typography, visual communication and even photography. I felt I had taken my illustration skills as far as I could at that point – or as far as I wanted to – I just didn’t get along with the Illustration lecturers, it was all too close to ‘visual arts’, too unfocused and if there is one thing I have learnt about encouraging myself to ‘create’ – it’s that I need an objective.

So I went over to the ‘dark side’ so to speak and took the visual communication stream, and for the most part, any inklings of being an illustrator fell by the wayside. The Bakehouse identity items you see above were my last gasp at any allusions in that area. To those in the know, you can see a strong influence from The Duffy Design/ Charles S Anderson style in the execution. Everyone else in the class seemed to be treating their identity projects so seriously, I just wanted to do something colourful and fun and momentarily recapture that spirit of enjoyment that made me first put pencil to paper when I was a kid.

As it turned out, in the long view of things, whether you chose to concentrate on illustration or visual communication didn’t really matter that much in the real world. A lot of the illustrators found that their skills were much in demand in the studios and went on to successful careers as graphic designers (Matthew Remphrey of Parallax Design studied illustration).

It’s unfortunate that the Uni of SA doesn’t do the combined foundation years anymore (at the moment though, that’s probably the least of their problems, don’t get me started) because for myself at least, it let me sort out what I really wanted to do. Through the years I’ve incorporated a few illustrations into the work I do, but I wouldn’t list it as one of my major skill sets. I still have a certain fondness for that pink dinosaur eating the cookie though 🙂