25.12.21 / 01 / How 2021

Everyone got new masks from Santa today. How 2021. Soon they will be a standard gift category, like socks and ties.

Of course, ties are well on their way out - no longer a useful gift. My father must have had 25 at any time. I have 5, none of which have been worn for years except for the black one to funerals. So the category of 'things to be worn under your chin' is being refilled by a different piece of fabric.

20.12.21 / 01 / Treating church as a design problem

Back in 2010 Jonny Baker interviewed me for a chapter of his book 'Curating Worship' (SPCK 2010). I've added my transcript to this site, because it's perhaps the most complete statement I've ever made about alt worship, art and design, and it felt like a kind of missing link among all the other stuff I've written here. It's also something that I point coworkers and potential employers at to explain where I'm coming from in relation to this church stuff.

Yes it's a long read, it was a chapter of a book. It's a good book - buy it and read all the other people's perspectives and insights too!

03.12.21 / 01 / thinking the whole

Some transcriptions of Peter Kapos's parts of this talk


I was doing a phD in philosophy, and I was peripherally interested in industrial design...

I was interested in German Idealism, and there’s a flowing together of ideas out of German Idealism into 20th century German Functionalism which I became aware of...

a specifically German project of thinking the whole, and a lot of that Modernist German 20th century design also has a social orientation, so it provides pictures, utopian pictures, of reconciled wholes...

a speculative futural projection of what a world could be like, which is installed in buildings, and in interiors, and in coffee grinders which I think is marvellous

Peter discusses this cover of the Ulm school journal, which looks like a Peter Saville album cover - easy to imagine it appropriated:

ulm 2 school journal
ulm 2 school journal as new order cover

Adorno: [speaking of German functionalist architecture]

Architecture worthy of human beings thinks better of men than they actually are. It views them in a way they could be, according to the status of their own productive energies as embodied in technology


This idea of productive energies being a potential which is disclosed by architecture, or product design, or graphic design - an image of the future, essentially, an image of human possibility
braun programme 1962

Kapos about this double-sided poster of the Braun programme for 1962:

A utopian proposal for a possible form of social life - these are like people - this is how you can have a social form, like a whole where there’s a unity of difference within an overarching unity - freedom and law
We’re looking back at a moment which is projecting forward - this is a resource for us in thinking about our future...

What we need to avoid in looking back in order to look forward is nostalgia, which is useless - but also to avoid thinking futuristically about the future... to fetishise the idea of the not-now - a glamorous sense of the future which becomes a self-contained aesthetic - the tailfin version of the future

30.11.21 / 01 / unobtrusive success

while we're on the subject, thoughts after the margaret calvert exhibition with reference to her ubiquitous achievements in signage and typography (a missed blog entry)

success is:

it’s everywhere
it does its job
nobody notices it as such
if looked at it is beautiful
it is not fashionable and doesn’t date
it has longevity
it does not waste resources
it is not needlessly expensive or over-refined
it answers a need (for something other than status)

27.11.21 / 01 / the return of [great] british rail[ways]

After 25 years of privatisation and fragmentation, the British railway system is to be brought back under a single state owner again - Great British Railways. The model is not full nationalisation, but based on Transport for London's successful running of the London Overground, where private operators provide services to the specifications of the controlling body.

As part of this:

There will be a national brand and identity to emphasise that the railways are one connected network. The rail network should feel like a network, a coherent, consistent, clearly-branded operation that gives passengers confidence in using it. Most successful consumer businesses, including retailers and airlines, aim to create similar levels of consistency and brand identity. Great British Railways will use updated versions of the classic ‘double arrow’ logo as well as the Rail Alphabet typeface, used in this document.

Even after 25 years of privatisation, the logo remains the most widely-used and best-recognised symbol of the railways. It is the standard marker on road signs. It appears on most tickets, online, and at the vast majority of stations. It will stay in those places and increasingly appear on trains, uniforms and publicity material too as and when these are upgraded or replaced as a single, unifying brand for the railways. Keeping it also avoids spending money on yet another new railway logo.

And also:

This publication is the first to use the new typeface, Rail Alphabet 2. This is a continuation and evolution of Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s original Rail Alphabet typeface, which was employed across the rail network from the mid-1960s. Margaret Calvert has collaborated with designer Henrik Kubel to develop Rail Alphabet 2. It retains the overall proportions of the original but the letters are sharper and slightly more compact for maximum legibility. Great British Railways will introduce Rail Alphabet 2 across the rail network, replacing the many different fonts used on railway signage.

So the British Rail corporate identity will return, suitably updated! I wonder how long it will be before the mouthful 'Great British Railways' gets shortened to 'British Rail'?

Incidentally, the 'Great' isn't just patriotic puffery - the railway system is that of the island of Great Britain. Northern Island has a separate system. Really they are trying hard not to say 'British Rail'!

26.11.21 / 01 / 20 years of designs

In preparing my portfolio, I took screenshots of many of my old website designs. So I've put the ones on here - screenshots of my other sites will no doubt follow. They are in the Grafix menu, or start with 1 and follow the chain of links.

Certain things run through. I have always liked to obscure the menu. The double menu system (main menu takes you to section menu pages) was there from the beginning (because I had too much content in the sections to hang off one menu). The horizontal image scroll, taken from which started earlier.

I haven't retrieved everything. The horrible lime green background of version 5 which I regret foisting on an audience (was my monitor calibrated correctly?). Version 9 was just a set of try-outs for version 10. The muddled period 2016-19 when I couldn't settle on a layout for the responsive site. I had got something I loved with 13-15, but it depended on carefully balanced and placed rectangles and text sizes. This obviously couldn't be taken through into a responsive design, so I had to start again and try to achieve the same effect that I'd lost. This proved harder than expected. I have contradictory intentions - I want minimalism and calm, but then I get depressed by the grey and want bright colours - and then I react back again. I don't intend to change all the time, I just want to find the scheme I want to keep - like 13-15.

I don't suffer these agonies with less personal sites. has had four designs, three of which have aesthetic continuity. was essentially unchanged throughout, because it was good first time. I treat sites as having a 'brand DNA' which has to continue. The Grace site colours are taken from Adam's late 90s/early 00s versions which I loved, but you can't inflict saturated page colours on viewers nowadays, so the colours have to be used as accents.

For the blue/grey/'helvetica' (now Unica) has been the brand DNA since 2010 - it's a particular blue though I've varied the darkness. The source is the British Rail corporate identity - eg compare the image below (from the reprinted manual) with this site's main menu:

british rail corporate identity page

but see also the 1960s Victoria Line signage and publicity:

pimlico 6
pimlico station notice 1972

Not coincidentally, the same man, Misha Black of Design Research Unit, had a major part in the design of both the Victoria Line and British Rail identities. He liked blue and grey!

1960s Pelican book covers are also close to what I've done here:

electronic computers front

but that's more a secondary/post-facto inspiration.

18.11.21 / 01 / wolf fields labyrinth

During lockdown Grace was invited to work with St John’s Church Southall and environmental charity A Rocha UK to build a labyrinth in Wolf Fields community garden in Southall. We did a couple of sessions to clear the ground - former location of a brick factory, very rocky soil - and lay groundsheets. I designed a labyrinth to suit the space.

Today we set out the labyrinth design on the groundsheets, initial setting out lines in chalk, then marking out with paint to survive the weather until the final materials arrive. We used black paint to correct the white paint, painting out unwanted parts of the lines and mistakes.

wolf fields labyrinth setting out 02wolf fields labyrinth painting 06wolf fields labyrinth finished painting 08

For the final construction we propose to use circular timber stakes hammered in along the lines, the tops left about 50mm above surface to retain wood chip path filling. The filled-in shapes will be cut out for planting.

Marking out labyrinths is always hard work, but today was arduous - bending right over to draw/paint while walking backwards, knees half bent, for several hours. My legs, back and shoulders are stiff and painful. I've not painted one before, it's always been duct tape.

16.11.21 / 01 / shantell martin

Inspiration from Shantell Martin [from an interview on Creative Review that's subscriber-only]. I was hugely inspired by Martin at the Alpha-ville Exchange conference in 2014 and here she is on a depressing morning to cheer me up again.

“I was drawing and drawing and drawing [live on-screen as a nightclub VJ], and I often say that was the real beginning of my career, because it put me in a position where you’re drawing live, you don’t have time to think, to plan, to hesitate, but more importantly you don’t have time to be anyone else but yourself,” she explains. “It puts you in the most honest but vulnerable position, but also it allows you to accelerate this process of extracting yourself as an artist."
“People often say, Shantell, how did you find your style? And they say ‘find’ in a way where they assume you have to go out into the world. But what we forget is that it’s in us. There is a core, there is this repetition, and it’s inside, not outside.”
“I realised I was playing the ‘if game’,” she tells CR. “If I had money, if I had a gallery, if I had representation, if I had mentors. If I had all of these things then New York would open up to me, but I didn’t. So I had to say, well, what do I have? And I had to create my own opportunities by using what I had access to.”

Martin is inspiring because her work seems accessible - watching her do it, you feel that you could do it too, or something similar, that what you can do might be good enough. It's not a display of breathtaking technique only available to a genius after years of practice (which isn't to deprecate her own technique and ability).

I could really use a conference like Alpha-ville Exchange right now.

12.11.21 / 01 / blog move and homepage change

I've moved the blog off the homepage to its own page - please adjust your browsers. The main menus have changed to suit.

This enables me to treat the homepage as a site for my 'little drawings', a pictorial blog if you will. They are becoming a practice, and look good gathered together rather than buried in the site sections. They make a better landing place for visitors and potential employers than acres of text and personal musings.

They will still have individual pages for the sake of permalinks (via the image title), as they will drop off the bottom of the home page eventually for the sake of loading time. I haven't quite decided how to handle that, whether I should have a homepage archive as on the Grace website, or whether a new pictorial menu section collecting the drawings as such rather than scattering them in the thematic text menus as now.

And while I was at it I changed the main menu categories ('workplace' has been coming for a while), added some new things, revised the meta tags, changed the colour scheme and streamlined the logo yet again...

27.10.21 / 01 / pot-bound

When a plant has been in a pot for a long time, it becomes pot-bound. Take it out and you find that the roots have become the shape of the pot and grown in on themselves. The plant will struggle to grow and become unhealthy.

The plant needs a larger pot and fresh soil. You need to tease some of the roots outward before replanting so they can engage with the new soil, taking care not to tear the roots or the rootball.

I am pot-bound.

21.10.21 / 01 / 20 years old

I ought to record that is 20 years old about now. I can't quite tell from the file dates when it actually went live - I thought it was early December 2001, but I found a link to it in an email from 25th October 2001 so it must have been live by then. If so 16th October looks like the date.

This is how it looked. The first two are the splash page with title rollover in Flash. The others show the menus as black bars in Flash which appear on rollover, hence all the white space to the left. The sections Jellyfish and Bus were named after the section header photos. The pages in each section were accessed from the horizontal bar. As well as Flash it was done in frames, so none of it works in modern browsers.

The jellyfish and bus photos were taken at Perranporth on the morning of 9/11, before it happened in America. When I walked into the beach bar early afternoon hoping for lunch, it was live on the projection TV. People like myself would wander in happy, and their happiness would die as they realised what was going on. I stayed until the towers fell, and then went back to my hotel. It was the first day of my holiday.

19.10.21 / 01 / toolbox

I just found the original graphics for this one from 2000! It still amuses me so I've brought it back. I'm a little bit puzzled by the original context of this - it predates this website and I seem to remember mounting it and other similar graphics on boards - for what? Greenbelt, if it was dated August?

11.10.21 / 01 / portfolio

My chief task right now is putting together my portfolio (or whatever it should be called now). Paid and unpaid, professional and amateur, as a single body of work.

I’ve never actually done this before in the digital age. I began the exercise in 2006 prior to leaving a job, but before I had got very far I was headhunted for the next job without an interview (yes I haven’t actually applied for a job for 20 years).

This is an exercise in personal history-making. It’s interesting how good one’s work looks if you take out all the bad bits in between. The minor projects and the unrealised ones get a chance to shine - maybe they are as good as or better than the other things.

I found my actual print portfolios from the end of the 90s, and realised with some dismay that there is almost nothing that I did before 1999 that I would show to anyone. Some of it I destroyed like any good artist! It was before the internet, thank goodness. So my actual career began half way through my life.

There are a number of reasons - technology, the internet, the people I was working and mixing with, the things I was now asked to do. Tools, tasks, education. There was a step change, a rapid upgrade 1998-2002. What came before can only be seen as juvenilia, getting base-level skills and experience. The best that can be said is that my hand drawings were good - whatever I was actually drawing.

The one early thing I would show is a Gothic door I did in the late 80s, for the perimeter wall of Strangeways prison in Manchester. I stand by it. The drawings are good (by hand, A0 dyeline prints). I need to digitise them but the size is difficult. Sadly I never saw the built door, have no photos and it was removed a few years ago before I got back to Manchester. All I have is a couple of views found on the internet.

It feels as though the first half of my life was spent on another planet, or in another historical era (which is maybe true), and then I was suddenly transported to the current one. The seamless availability of the past (which is actually part of the cultural change) masks the actual discontinuity in lived experience.

06.10.21 / 01 / volunteering

With regard to alt worship, etc.

04.10.21 / 01 / london design festival

Posting London Design Festival stuff on Flickr. The Festival was smaller, lacked some of the big events. The largest single event was Design London at North Greenwich, this was a tiny fraction of the usual 4-hours-to-walk-round show at Olympia. I went to say hi to Cameron Design House, also Haberdashery, Icons of Denmark, Thonet, Loft, and OMK. The presence of OMK and Thonet's Breuer chairs made me wonder if 1970s Habitat chrome-and-leather was about to have a moment again.

This year Park Royal had been declared a 'design district', to my bemusement as it's an industrial area about a mile from home. To the casual visitor (trying not to be run down by HGVs) it's an unpromising jumble of sheds. Fortunately I was guided around by Kaz of OrsiniBrewin who are the architect-developers of several studio complexes in the area. These house a great variety of artists and makers. Part of the reason for the 'design district' was to make the locals visible to one another, let alone outsiders - the buildings hide everything behind blank walls and shutters. I had a couple of conversations with Gil Wedam of Citymapper, who was sticking QR code posters up around the streets. There isn't yet a central website or map for the artists/makers, and if someone from elsewhere worked with one of them they wouldn't know about the others around them. So that will no doubt change (it's a network problem - needs visible hubs). Thanks to Kaz and Gil and some poring over maps the district is now legible to me, at least.

I only hope that visibility doesn't draw down forces of gentrification and overdevelopment. At the moment it's like Shoreditch or Spitalfields in the early 90s - the artists are there because it's cheap and unregarded. The difference, perhaps, is that the buildings of the inner East End were easily turned into upmarket dwellings and offices. The 20th century industrial sheds of Park Royal are not so easily upgraded. The risk is of eviction and demolition for apartment and office towers (killing the goose that lays the golden eggs...).

Special mentions at Park Royal: Regan Boyce for polyhedral sculptures, lights, prints; Blast Studio for 3D printed tables and lamps from waste paper coffee cups and fungi (coming soon to the Waste Age exhibition at the Design Museum); David Samuel for herding street-art cats; Richard Wilson (not the sculptor) for amazing painting of Mary Seacole (my photo here). And man of the moment Yinka Ilori is based there too, next to OrsiniBrewin.

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