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.

23.09.21 / 01 / new business cards!

I still think that a nice printed card has impact in a digital world. Incidentally, that work lounge idea is just what we need after the pandemic.

22.09.21 / 01 / what we learned

For people whose primary work is in an office, WFH is possible 95% of the time. Possible, not necessarily comfortable.

The efficiency of meeting in person. Human senses are in play. Online meetings can't replicate it. The screen and the apparatus are alienating factors. It only comes close in a one to one call where the focus is on a single person.

The emotional support of coworkers in the office is hard to replicate online. The sheer presence of someone next to you, without having to set up a call and break what both of you are doing. When things get stressful, this is the biggest loss in WFH.

The office as a meeting place more than a desk-working place. A venue for the human interaction that can’t be done remotely. A place that generates and supports the collective culture of an organisation.

The commute as a transitional space to prepare for work, or to prepare for home. As processing time. As a boundary with depth in time and space between work and home.

The boundary problems of WFH. Work invades everything. So do children.

Hidden overwork and stress. Because there are no boundaries, and we're not with our coworkers who can see and help.

Most homes are not set up for work - tech, a separate space, ergonomics, acoustics etc.

So from now on we need to see a workspace as a usual part of home, like a bedroom, dining space etc. From now it will always be needed some of the time, so we had better make it work.

21.09.21 / 01 / a shift

Back when the second big English lockdown began to lift, I went into the office for the first time in a long while. On the tube, the few people in formerly-conventional workwear suddenly looked like holdovers from another century. Most people were heading to work in sportswear. Smart sportswear, athleisure you might say, but still tracksuits and head to foot lycra, black and white with pops of colour. I don't think they were going to change when they got to the office.

I can't see this going back much. Everyone has seen everyone else in sportswear on Zoom. Even the top people. I remember being laughed at in a client call for being smart when they were all in old hoodies. Nobody's fooled by a suit anymore or thinks it's needed to do good work. It's another ratchet in the 100-year transfer of sportswear into daily life (what after all was a 'sports jacket'?).

So tonight I solved my new work trousers problem with trackpants from asos. I've lived in similar for 18 months, they work and look good with a number of things. And they accommodate lockdown-induced changes of waistline. And can go straight to the gym to reverse said changes.

20.09.21 / 01 / emirates air line

And the next day I went to North Greenwich to take the Emirates Air Line to Royal Victoria DLR and thence to Gallions Reach to find the nice coffee shop at the far end of the docks. I felt sure that I would be travelling only one way on the cable car, and indeed it was scary (for me). Not unlike my fear of flying, in fact. I deliberately jumped on without much thought, and then the car went over the edge and swooped up 250 feet.

The London Eye is taller, but the cabins are larger and clearly attached to a very large structure - as opposed to a glass bubble on a single wire. I just concentrated on photographing the view and not thinking about the drop. In truth the ride was less shaky than I had feared, and I dare say that regular users (if there are any) think nothing of it - though I would hate to try it on a windy day.

The Air Line is essentially pointless. Few people need to commute from North Greenwich to Royal Docks and in any case the journey is only two stops via the tube and DLR. The Air Line runs at about 10% of its capacity, as evidenced by the number of empty cars. It was the most expensive cable car ever built at the time, and the tickets cost extra rather than being integrated into the general TfL fare system, which inhibits casual use. Londoners wonder why the money couldn't have been spent on something more useful like a bridge. It contributes to their sour perception of Boris Johnson (who was mayor 2008-2016) as a waster of public money on vanity projects (see also the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the Garden Bridge).

16.09.21 / 01 / the painted hall

The reason for my trip to Greenwich was to see the Painted Hall. The magnificence is quite stupefying. It was meant to be the dining hall for the naval pensioners, but it turned out too grand to risk on regular dining (thrown bread rolls, cabbage smells etc) and soon became a public attraction and ceremonial space as it is today.

There are padded benches down the centre of the room so that people can lie on their backs to examine the ceiling. For all its splendour there is something comical about the kings and queens placed among the gods - such adulation could only be carried off straight-faced by Louis XIV, or Elizabeth I - monarchs who are already myths. William and Mary, Anne, George I were too homely and constitutional to live up to the publicity. Still, it's entertaining.

The mirror-image space in the other half of the complex is the chapel. The original interior was lost in a fire in 1779, and the neoclassical replacement is fussy, heavy and a shade of beige made bilious peach by the lighting. The architect James 'Athenian' Stuart was apparently an alcoholic by the time he designed it - "his face declared him to be fond of what is called friendly society". Robert Adam would have had a lighter touch and better colours. People take a look at the chapel and go back to the Hall for more wonderment. Baroque is like blockbuster movies - a lot of expensive special effects and superstars, but it gets the audiences, even years later.

13.09.21 / 01 / river trip

Last week we had a brief burst of hot sunny weather, so it was time to get out and make the most of it. First I took a river boat to Greenwich and back. In all my years in London it was the first time I had ever been on a river trip of any kind. Notionally it's part of the transport system - there are sightseeing boats, but there are commuter boats which are faster and have less outside seating (but big windows). Strangely they are now a franchise operated by Uber. I don't think you can summon one for yourself.

From Westminster pier the boat zigzags across the river to pick up and drop off - there are many piers between Battersea and the Tower of London. As soon as we've passed under Tower Bridge the boat accelerates sharply to something like 40 knots, and we roar down to Canary Wharf past Wapping, Bermondsey, Limehouse and Rotherhithe (Dickensian names!). It is an experience of the actual distances which are obscured by the usual underground travel.

Greenwich was always meant to be approached by water, but unfortunately the pier is just before the palace so one doesn't get the axial view from the water. It would be nice if the boats went past and turned before docking. I suspect that the best way is to stay on the boat for North Greenwich. Must do that another time.

The Uber boats are nice inside - like a good aircraft - with a coffee bar. They are crewed by young people who throw the ropes and drop the gangways with deftness - there is no time to delay the boat with fluffed moves. Part of me thinks it's a nice job, and part thinks it probably gets boring like anything you do mechanically day in day out. You also have to rescue everybody in an emergency.

Unfortunately it's quite an expensive way to travel, which limits its potential as a post-pandemic well-ventilated alternative to tubes and buses. Historically the river was the main highway of London - to travel on it is to experience London as it was routinely experienced in past centuries. The locations of landing piers were in everyone's heads as much as the locations of tube stations are now. If services were cheaper and a little more frequent - but then one wonders about the carbon footprint of the boats - they are not electric or sail-powered! And we worry about the health and safety aspects of crowded boats on a crowded river. But people from past centuries would be astonished by the sheer emptiness of the river now.

31.08.21 / 01 / charlotte perriand

Posting photos from the stunning Charlotte Perriand exhibition at the Design Museum. I was at the private view of the museum's 1996 exhibition, opened by Perriand herself, still feisty at the age of 93. I remember her, but not the exhibition! However, this exhibition is not forgettable.

The magic ingredients this time are the full-size recreations of certain key rooms in her career, most notably the 'model apartment' at the 1929 Salon d'Automne in Paris, designed with Pierre Jeanneret and Le Corbusier. The black and white photos of the exhibit are well known, but the coloured and chromed reality is sensational. The impact in 1929 must have been extraordinary - something from another planet.

Colour in early Modern architecture is something that fascinates me at the moment. The key works of the period were published as black and white photographs and greyscale drawings. Modernism was received as a 'white architecture' by those who only knew the images. After WW2 many key works had been ruined or were 'restored' with plain white paint. In recent years, original colours have been restored to startling effect - modernism was not the austere sense-denying affair of popular repute. The 'machine for living in' was a painting for living in.

Perriand suffered the common fate of female designers, seen as an 'assistant' to her famous male collaborators Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé, her contributions downplayed or misunderstood. Beyond sexism, one reason is that interior design only achieved status as a separate profession in the late 20th century. Interior design, in the current professional sense, is a by-product of the generic commercial spaces of late modernism.

Historically, architects designed the interior spaces of their buildings at an architectural level, and interior decorators (often under the term ‘upholsterers’ because they dealt in fabric hangings and furniture coverings) decorated and furnished them for inhabitation. In fact the ideal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that the architect, as a artist with an all-encompassing vision, should design the furniture and decor too, and the Modern Movement was heir to this ideal.

But the late-modern office block or retail unit provides empty space with as little definition as possible. Occupants must first create spaces within this space in order to function, which can then be furnished and ‘decorated’. This creates a need for a consultant between the traditional roles of architect and interior decorator. Sometimes this consultant has been called ‘interior architect’, but the term that stuck was ‘interior designer’. Their remit includes many of the activities of a traditional interior decorator, but they are insulted if they are taken for interior decorators - the implication being that they only arrange cushions and flowers. In fact interior design is a kind of second-order architectural pursuit (architecture inside architecture).

Perriand’s work with Le Corbusier has often been seen through the traditional framework - the architect designing the spaces, even the furniture, and the interior decorator advising on fabrics and colours, seen as a ‘woman’s occupation’. Corbusier notoriously rejected her first approach with the comment "we don't sew cushions here"! But from a 21st century viewpoint, Perriand was in fact operating as an interior designer in the full current sense, designing second-order space and functionality within Corbusier’s projects, with primary responsibility for furniture, and indeed, fabrics and finishes. But she never designed a fabric pattern, or scattered many cushions. Corbusier acknowledged her special position in his work. But it has only been since, perhaps, the 1980s that we have been able to see her work as taking place within a separate discipline, in which she was a great figure in her own right, rather than a subordinate to a great architect.

18.08.21 / 02 / neanderthal

Wikipedia illustration of delayed sleep phase disorder.

Green is standard circadian rhythm, blue is DSPD circadian rhythm. Right now I am doing the DSPD line, and trying to drag it back. However, even when I'm being more disciplined my natural line is only one hour back - wake at 10am, sleep at 2am.

However, this is just my Neanderthal genetic heritage.

The gene ASB1, associated with eveningness and a tendency to day-napping is a result of interbreeding between archaic and modern humans and is originally a Neanderthal trait, possibly linked to a more crepuscular lifestyle in this species.

18.08.21 / 01 / more affirmation

Screenshot from Daniel Miller's Website tour, recorded here as note-to-self.

I'm glad I shouldn't feel bad for the things I do.

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