First cartoon memory

23 Feb


Postman pat reminded me of my mum. No, she’s not a village postman who drives around in a bright red van with a black and white cat named ‘Jess’. It was the ginger hair, spectacles, smiley face and general caring nature that did it. Just as i could rely on my mama to nurture and care for me, the residents of Greendale relied upon Pat to resolve their problems. So when i was left with my auntie (who didin’t remind me of any loveable pre-school character) while mum and dad were at work, i watched my home taped video of Pat and the gang repeatedly, anticipating her return.

Postman Pat’s first episode was screened on BBC1 in 1981. John Cunliffe wrote the original treatment and scripts, and it was directed by animator Ivor Wood, who also worked on The Magic Roundabout and Paddington Bear. Something i didnt know back then in those torturous hours with my auntie, was that Royal Mail had used the show as a marketing vehicle until they dedcided that Pat no longer fitted  in with the company’s corporate image (impossible!).

Probably before Postman Pat, i enjoyed watching Noddy, a little wooden boy who lives in his own little House-for-One in Toyland. There must have been somthing about stop frame animation (and red vehicles) that got my little mind going. So ive decided to research ‘Why do children love cartoons?’



16 Feb

I entered the lecture as Alan announced “Helvetica caused the Vietnam war.” Highly confused I sat down thinking ‘really?!’.  With one fist in the air and his perma smile strong, he said “Clear it all away, get international, get Helvetica”.  Companies were ditching old, confused identities. He informed us that big companies (a lot of Oil Company’s) used Helvetica as wolf in sheep’s clothing. Posing behind the font as a clean, butter wouldn’t melt organisation, hiding its evil, dark side.

Paul Rand was born in the New York slums. His approach to design is considered by many as one of the most modern approaches to design ever. He was a trendsetter as well as a groundbreaker for decades. At a time when the world was moving away from art deco, Rand pioneered corporate design and advertising in the 40’s through the 60’sdeveloping identities for major corporations like IBM. He was witty designer which prompted Alan to comment “if you don’t know how to play as an adult don’t be a graphic designer”.

Joseph Muller Brockman was a famous Swiss graphic designer. He created elegant, understated poster designs that gave off a sense of rhythm, harmony, composition, and abstract geometry. He often used the grid system following his own strict rules and in 1981 published books about Grid Systems in Graphic Design, which told the process of using the grid for page structure. He is recognised for his simple designs and his clean use of typography, shapes and colour. He keeps things simple and to the point with a ‘less is more approach’ (the statement of modernism), which still inspires many graphic designers today. Alan described one of his works as a “simple perfect thing”, which I liked.

Alan Fletcher is among the most influential figures in British graphic design. He has a very personal visual style. Alan Fletcher’s 2001 book, The Art of Looking Sideways, is a great source of wit and inspiration. I particularly liked his piece displaying a pyramid and sun in a desert.  It makes you look at things in a new way and you can tell from looking at his designs his designs that he did too. I like the adventure and novelty aspect in his work; it shows you his attitude to the world and makes you laugh.

I found that this lecture kept regurgitating one word in particular, wit. It was the subject that this lecture finished on. Witt is a form of communication that is very precise, something that is often thought but rarely expressed. It’s clever, provocative and snappy. Designers are concerned in non verbal communication. Visual wit involves taking something from one domain and placing it in another.

Alan then announced that this was his last lecture and Mark would be taking us from now on, I felt a sudden shortness of breath and had to refrain from assuming a phoetal positon and crying like a baby. This would be the end of an amazing five week era!

Ch . .Tch. . Scht. . Tschichold!!

16 Feb

Monday the nineteenth and another show stopping lecture from none other than Alan Powers. Due to an unmissable lead I regrettably missed the first fifteen minutes (unhappy face!!). But quickly settled in to be immersed in the infinite pool of Powers intelligence.

This week we were learning about Jan Tschichold, Piet Zwart and their rules of design.

Piet Zwart’s work can be recognised by its primary colours, geometrical shapes, repeated word patterns and an early use of photomontage. He was someone who did not adhere to traditional typography rules.

The typeface Futura was widely used for photomontage; a modern concept deserved a modern typeface. It is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed in 1927 by Paul Renner.

Jan Tschichold began to use san serif typefaces and designed simplified layouts. I liked the idea of Jan Tschichold’s single alphabet type, though it didn’t advanced beyond experiment to become a popular text typeface. He eventually presented his own manifesto of ten principles and rules for a new typographic practice that summarised convictions about elemental forms and clarity of communication which avant-garde artists in Germany had called for earlier. It provoked considerable debate

Things that i picked up that i feel would be useful in my designs were; Using the white space, make it speak. Designs should be plain, beautiful, practical and simple.

After the second world war penguin books had been running for 12 years, it was a big company that needed a revamp. Enter Jan Tschichold. He came to London and joined penguin books in 1947. But before Tschichold, Penguin books were designed by Edward Young, and this is where Alan informed us that he “likes the smell of old penguin books” (for some reason this didn’t deter my positive feeling for him?!). Jan created a practical look for Penguin that would suit a large number of books and achieve balance, consistency, and legibility. He introduced a set of composition Rules and implemented a grid system. The grids were unalterable instructions that set the foundation for the trimmed page area, width and height of each book, visual cover size, type area on cover and spine, position and style of the spine label and lettering on labels for all the Penguin series. And penguin books became even more successful.

He designed a book cover in Sweden which had a pretty red and blue pattern all over it, Alan said it looked like a big book but it wasn’t. “He often did this to small things, make it a shrunk version of a grand thing”.

Super Alan Powers finished the lecture by showing us a two short films, Rainbow Dare and A Colourbox,  by Len Lye, stating “this is the English box office at its best”. He added “ if you want to get up and dance you may”. It goes without saying that I shook my booty till it fell off!

Mr & Mrs Eames

16 Feb

Charles Eames started his work during the Second World War when he constructed a weird looking machine for moulding ply-wood named ‘the Kazam’. This led to the Eames’s important contribution to in the war. They received a contract to develop moulded plywood leg splints for injured soldiers.

Charles and Ray applied the method of moulding plywood to the design of domestic furniture. The first product was a simple plywood chair with the seat and back supports curved to ergonomically and comfortably accommodate the human body. The aesthetics of that time was for things to look as though there were floating off the ground and weightless. Their furniture pieces were lean, modern, sleekly sophisticated, simple yet beautiful. They were produced by the Herman Miller Company, and marketed as an affordable, multifunctional chair suitable for all modern households.

The husband-and-wife team had a great impact on the visual character of daily life in America. Alan advised us all to “Go to an upmarket furniture store, they don’t mind if you try them out because one day when you’re famous and rich, you’ll buy one”. Alan showed us an example of an Eames’s Lounge chair and ottoman 1958 which Reminded him of a James Bond villain sitting there stroking a white cat?!
Moving on from chairs to architecture, they moved to California and became involved in a social programme to build their own family home in Santa Monica California in 1949. It was built from industrial warehouse pieces and tried not to look like a house. It was a crossover between a house and a studio with a double height living room; giving them an open plan modern way of living. It was a million miles away from the traditional, fixed room arrangements of the typical American house. Seating was very close to the floor with lots of ethnic and old fashioned objects and clutter engulfed in the modern architecture.

Eames’s also created innovative and groundbreaking films. They made the film ‘Blacktop which was the most ‘arty’ of their films. It wasn’t made for money, but for fun and Alan commented that it is “absolutely gorgeous”. Followed by “the 60’s was my era”. Toccata for toy trains, 1937, really pushed the boundary’s of technology. Using old materials and modern techniques it was truly a labour of love. And is “one of Alan’s favourites”. The couple were a beautiful coming together and were very powerful in capturing the nostalgia.

My favourite quote from Alan in today’s lecture was “Humans are wilful not natural, if we were like a tree, the world would be a better place.” I’ll leave you with that.

Mr Tickle – The British Library

16 Feb

Today i had the pleasure of visiting an exhibition at the British Library, ‘Evolving English, One Language Many Voices’. It looks at how English is spoken in the UK, from rural dialects to the way urban young people speak. It celebrates the English language as it is spoken by 1.8 billion people around the world (Thats a third of the worlds population!!). It highlights how, from the very beginning, English has been shaped by the different cultures and languages with which it came into contact.

I thought the layout of the main room was a success, you wasn’t forced to follow a maze of partitions which started where our language began and lead up to the modern day slang (as i had imagined). The huge room has an open layout, with most of the displays around the edges. The result is a spacious, easy environment in which to wander around according to whatever catches your eye. So each viewer has a totally individual, however messy experience of the history of our language.

The exhibition comprises of books, manuscripts, music, sound recordings, photographs, newspapers and magazines and lots of quirky interactive elements which i particularly enjoyed. I played the game ‘whose language is it anyway?’ a three player quiz game on the English language and won (obviously . . . derrr!) which was fun!

An impressive projection runs above the artefacts around the top of the black walls. I became mesmerised by the quotes and dates and other treasures that slowly morphed in and out of view and found myself sitting down, lost in the stream of information that overlapped and floated out of existence. Something that particularly stuck out to me was ‘ local English around the world – Jamaica – Duppy = Ghost, Pickney = Child, Criss = Pretty,’. As it highlighted the fact that although these words are commonly used in my family in our everyday english, others may not have even heard them before at all.

I contributed to the voice banks by reading an excerpt from Mr Tickle as the library are collecting as many different voices, dialects and accents as possible from visitors, to see how pronunciation of words and accents are evolving. I felt a sense of pride in my involvement in this research.

A positively fantastic way to spend a rainy afternoon!

London Underground and the amazing Alan Powers!

16 Feb

On wednesday 12th, I attended a lecture at the University of Greenwich taken by British author Alan Powers, who specialises in books on architecture, art and design. Ten minutes into the lecture on the history of the london underground, you get the feel that he isn’t merely delivering facts but passionately and lovingly relaying his vast knowledge on the subject. Besides knowing personally half of the people involved in the design history of the underground, you can tell he is an expert in this field. I don’t think its a coincidence that ‘the brain’ on Arthur (the kids TV show) is named Alan Powers!

The London Underground, the world’s oldest subway, opened in January 1863 and there was a time in the 1930s, when design on London Underground was regarded as one of the exemplary features of the system, and many of these designs have survived to the present day.

 One of these existing designs is a typeface that was introduced on the Underground around 1916 to strengthen the company’s corporate identity.  It was commissioned by the undergrounds publicity manager to be designed by the typographer Edward Johnston and was introduced on tube maps, nameplates and general station signing, as well as the printed material issued by the Underground Group. Features of the modern new font are the perfect circle of the letter O and the diagonal square dot above the letters i and j and the full stop. Amazingly it is still in use to this day, although its been very slightly modified and is now known as New Johnston. 

 The roundel made its first appearance on Underground station platforms in 1908. It was made up of a solid red circle and horizontal blue bar. Edward Johnston also redesigned the bar and circle symbol (as it became known), to incorporate his company typeface, and is similar to the one still in use today.

Tube maps have been part of London life since the birth of the Underground, and initially left passengers confused as a chameleon on a pile of skittles; tangled lines intertwined around the curling River Thames. But then along came Harry Beck, an engineer working for the london underground. In 1931, he came up with the genius idea of presenting the ever growing underground maze as a circuit diagram rather than a geographical map. And in doing so creating a modern design icon that has never ever ever been bettered.

 The underground became known around the world for its use of high quality art in its publicity. Artists were specially commissioned by the Underground to produce posters to be displayed in stations. This tradition started in about 1908 and continued throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s.

 Lets face it . . . a history lecture at 9.30 to kick start your week seems somewhat uninspiring, but against all odds I managed to stay switched on even through talk of coordinated design of ticket machines, Alan Powers I’m absolutely a fan!