Blog archive November 2021

<< October 2021 / December 2021 >>

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...

05.11.21 / 01 / lighting systems

Notes from DesignLondon lighting discussion with Simeon Chilvers (Cameron Design House) and Samuel Wilkinson.

Lighting systems:

What should be smart? What should be dumb? Put the smart in the right place. Fittings should generally be dumb plugins to smart systems. Put the tech in the place it can be replaced easily without losing the whole product or system. Don’t make a fitting that will last centuries with a component that will be obsolete in 5 years.

If the lights are good, you only need switches - not an app on your phone!

“[Make it so] you can’t use it badly”
[Samuel Wilkinson]

Notes from experience:

1. Technical systems provided by lighting designers and contractors tend towards [over]complexity - but users settle quickly on two settings and never need the rest. The issue is that clients want rooms to serve diverse uses with very different lighting needs; or they make late brief changes that alter the functions of spaces eg additional AV.

2. Provide simple and legible controls - not complex or inscrutable switchplates that require training and familiarity. viz Barcelona huddles - scene setting dimmer switchplates had to be replaced with simple push pads so people could just hit the lights as they walked in or out. People just want it to work!

<< October 2021 / top / December 2021 >>