Friday, December 19, 2008

Aston Martin designs Routemaster

Thank God for that! The Aston Martin/Foster pitch has won through and they will be in charge of redesigning the beloved London Routemaster bus. Why the relief? Well if you take a look at one of the other designs that was in the running by Capoco design you'll see not so much a new design as a redesign. The losing Capoco design was said to combine " the best of the old with the best of the new" but to me it looks like a compromise botch job. And so thank god the AM/F design won (see opposite). This winning design may not look like the Routemaster but I don't think it should (too much)! It should recreate the feelings we had about that lovely old bus without making simply an updated version. I want to think quirky, particular and peculiar when I see the new design and that's what it does! Simply beefing up the old Routemaster look seems, to me, pointless and a bit of an insult really. Do they really think we want to see the classic design reworked? Not really-a rework is not good enough. A new design is needed which shows a certain classiness and identity for London and the brand of Britain, which I think this new design does.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Crunchy sales

So a main trend in the marketing press these days is the discussion as to whether flash sales will pose any long term threat to the business. Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and BHS all announced sales in their stores recently and analysts worry that not only will this give just a temporary boost in profit but that long term consumers will see the retailers in a different way, damaging their brand position.

Discount stores threatened Tesco's 30% lead in the grocery market and replied by introducing the Discount Brand. This, claims the Fool, has brought in 300, 000 new customers but The Independent recently reported on the company's worst sales in the UK for 16 years, so maybe things are catching up with Tesco.

My question is, though, what else can be done? These companies are attempting to stimulate spending in a rather flat economy and hopefully long term marketing budgets and planning won't suffer for it. this will be key to keep companies afloat during the difficult times-creative and canny PR and marketing to help sell products and ultimately contribute to a bounce back in the economy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Anyone Can Do It!

Anyone Can Do It by Duncan Bannatyne.

An inspiring read, this book not only plots the early days of Bannatyne's life through to his Den days on tv but gives a useful insight into how he made his (many) millions. The title is called 'Anyone Can Do It' but I'm not so sure that anyone can do it after having read this. There are a few necessary traits. For example Bannatyne has a cast-iron determination and ability to deal with lots of complex issues happening simultaneously-something even he identifies as crucial in his success. Of particular insterest to me was a story he tells of trying to help some directors to gear up their company only to find that they didn't have the desire for the wealth. This hasn't been a problem for Bannatyne! It seems that he's also driven by a sense of justice-or maybe it's a sense of injustice: striving to make his business the right way and feeling proud about this. Not scared to shop anyone else who's breaking the law or trying it on with him. Don't get me wrong I reckon this guy is hard to deal with for all the above reasons but I kinda like this. It seems you'd know where you were with him.  

I think I'd like the guy and I liked this story: it's fresh and frank- a straightforward guy who's made it big from his own hard work and bloody mindedness. Well done! And thanks for inspiring me to get off my bum and make some decisions...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why we design

Or at least why Philippe Starck designs. Pretty entertaining and some gems of ideas about 'high' design within a business and social context.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fonts in movies

Here's a neat little look at font styles in the movies.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sat nav generation, symbols and interface

As satellite navigation systems are becoming cheaper and therefore everyone is buying them up, it's interesting to stop and consider what this is doing to our driving experience along with the whole idea of user interaction whilst driving.

We tend to trust machines to work the way they are intended. Even more so do we trust computers! Ah yes, the summum of intelligent design, conceived to make out lives easier which is exactly what sat nav does, doesn't it? Well mostly yes it can alleviate the stress of navigating alone whilst driving (or even the stress of being navigated by a nitwit with a map sat next to you!) but occasionally sat nav goes wrong. Furthermore it seems to be sucking out all of our sense of direction by relying on these machines too much. Worse than this it can lead to annoying and inappropriate shortcuts like the one which has led to a cottage being driven into 15 times in the last year by lorries who have blindly followed the sat nav instructions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Design, camouflage, dinosaurs and exams.

One of the main functions of visual perception is to detect objects in the environment as either a potential mate, predator or perhaps lunch (Scientific American p18. V Ramachandran, D Rogers-Ramachandran). So determining what is not part of the scenery has been vital in the past in order for us to pass on our genes to our lucky predecessors. What use is it in modern life though? I'm not in the habit of popping out to the high street to bag a mammoth or flee from roaming tyrannosaurus rexs (!) on my way home from work.

What's the use of it now in getting our food or our mate then? Well in design terms it means that when we engage with visual communication we tend to see contrasted items much better. It jumps out at us as we say to ourselves, " that a dinosaur?!". Use your head, designers!

No point using low contrast text on designs...

When I was doing my O levels the dreaded exam papers were black text on yellow paper. Oh boy did that strike fear in our hearts. We only had to glimpse a registration plate to give us the shivers! Apparently though this is the best contrast for legibility. So I guess we should thank the exam board for making it like this!

If you need some tools to ensure your website text has sufficient contrast for good legibility check out this article which gives some web tools to use.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What is YouTube for?

Check this out to get an anthropological take...(thanks to DB for highlighting this)

'An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube' by Michael Wesch

Monday, June 30, 2008


Interesting presentation here on Identity! (Thanks Phil) The style of presentation is great too...

Check out the nervous compere though in his geeky shirt :)
Follow up presentation here

Saturday, May 31, 2008


It's amazing what people can read into symbols isn't it? For example we all know that certain images are meant to be ambiguos. Take for example my wife and my mother-in-law. Actually please don't take them too far as Im rather attached to both of them...

Here we can see a cleverly designed visual pun.

On the other hand the new Starbucks logo is, well, just ok...I mean nothing special, but if you are a particular sort of Christian it seems that the following (on left) is offensive!

This article says that a US Christian group hs said the logo's character has her legs "spread like a prostitute... ".

Interestingly the founder of Starbucks has said of the logo (in general terms) "bare-breasted and Rubenesque; [it] was supposed to be as seductive as coffee itself".

It's true that the tails are spread but it would never occur to me that this mermaid's tails were sexually enticing me. What a load of old rubbish!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Are your Hands giving the right impression?

This is why creating the right look and feel for businesses is important...

"Fidgety, ink-stained and with nails bitten to the quick, Gordon Brown's hands are fast becoming a visible symbol of the pressures he is under."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Responsible design 1

It was a fine April morning and my little one and I decided to go for a stroll, fulfilling her burning desire to go to a playground ("pingownd daddy, pingownd!). We stopped briefly to post a letter and I was left aghast at the state of British design. It's something I've noticed many times before and always tutted at, but this jarring image stopped me in my tracks today. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of a beautiful spring morning with the visual house of horrors I saw before me. What was this horror of horrors? None other than our great British pillar box.

WHAT? I hear you gasp. He's crazy. This is an iconic design! Almost as iconic as the red Gilbert Scott designed telephone box. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING LITTLEFAIR? Well, I shall explain. The beautiful Georgian pillar box is not that which is offending my sensibilities but rather the monstrosity welded to the side of it. Is this the height of well integrated British design? Don't get me wrong- I'm no pre-raphaelite revivalist who swans around in a smoking jacket bemoaning the good old days when a pint of beer cost 2d and everything was SO much better when things were made of wood. No. We need to embrace modernity and our ever evolving lives and find interesting and innovative ways of moving forward. And sticking a big red box on the side of a (probably) antique piece of (functional but attractive) street furniture is not the way forward!

I have sympathy for the posties. They do a good job and they're probably not paid a great deal. Our postie is a family man who does his job and later in the day I see him with his kids doing dad stuff. So I don't want to burden his round- of course he should have a secure place to leave some of his deliveries so as not to be weighed down. But can you imagine the design brief conversation before this was implemented?

Big wig: "We need some storage areas to integrate onto existing pillar boxes for posties. Let's have a look a the designs"

Designer (mechanical, no doubt): "Well. I've come up with this box. It has a lock and we simply weld it to the side of the post boxes."

BW: " Hmm, yes I like it. How much does it cost? What are your fees?"

D: " Oh a lot less than an industrial designer's. All that marketing bullshit - you don't need that"

BW: "Yes you're right but, somehow this box on the needs something else. What do you think?"

D: "Hmmm. How about if I add a radius along the top edge. Give it like an arched roof"

BW: "Will it add cost?"

D: "no, no."

BW "...... Yeah. I like. I like. Implement this and make 25,000 units. Well done. We also need some stand alone boxes to set up. Make them grey and ugly"


I guess these boxes need to look fairly industrial so as not to attract attention of thugs and vandals, but really........What have they done to our heritage. This is my (and yours) cultural inheritance that they are tampering with! (I know they probably own these boxes and can probably do what they like with them. But aren't they listed? Should they be? This link tells how they are protected by English heritage)

These people have a design responsibility. If you pay in the design stage for a bit of creative thinking rather, chances are you'll come up with a great looking integrated design which may not cost as much as the off the shelf monstrosity. Designers also have a responsibility to solve the problem fully. That's what designers do- they look at problems and try and find solutions. If they are working with an enlightened client then a full range of ideas can be explored and market tested to see if this is the real deal: the right design solution. But the designer also has to advise on this process. Often clients can't comprehend the long term (and sometimes strategic) value of design input at the beginning of the project and may need to be convinced. The designer has a responsibility too- it's not just the penny pinching client. I've been put under immense budgetary limits in the past and this only makes me more resolved to think about the problem fully in order to come up with a solution within the full design brief: aesthetic, functional and financial.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What's in a name?

A lot is in a name really. Ask Iona Knipl, winner of the New York Times Worst Bad Name contest. Read here how she used to hate her name at school, but now finds it "neat".

I also had a bad time at school because I had the longest name in letters in my primary class. I remember being given a long thin piece of coloured card with my name neatly spelled out by the teacher and told to copy it, letter by letter. I was the last in the class to achieve it!

Throughout senior school it was a real drag of a name too, but I have come to love my unusual name, even though you'd blanch at some of the spellings I've had! Once people understand my name, it's unforgettable, or at least instantly recognisable. Yes, I like my name. It doesn't define me as names did when they were first given hundreds of years ago. I'm not that small and not too pretty! But in some ways I am now defined by my name and how I had to deal with it growing up.

In this light I can see how Sir Terence Conran is miffed that some other company is going global with a chain of companies in his name. When I was considering a name for my venture a good friend and colleague who happens to be a specialist in company acquisitions warned me of using my name as a trading name, the argument goes thus: you get known, build up your company to the point where it's not just you on your own anymore, but a board responsible to shareholders. It's at this point that you are no longer in sole charge of your named company. Nor, in that context, your name. You could be ousted by from the board, retire, resign. But your name goes on in the guise of the company. Just like Sir Conran.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mystified by branding? It's all in the cup of tea

Are you mystified by branding? Fed up of people talking about how their logos talk about their "core values"? Don't know a logotype from a logomark? Well, to be honest you don't really need to know about these things to give a good impression of your company. It's all about the cup of tea...

A brand isn't your logo. The amount of times I've had clients call me in for meetings and let me know in a very matter of fact way that they'd like me to design a brand for them. I get excited. An enlightened client! But it soon transpires that what they want is a 'logo' redesign. Usually in isolation to all other communications in their arsenal. Well that's no brand I'm afraid. The brand can be found in the gut reaction your key stakeholders have about you and your company. It goes way beyond the logo. Sure the logo needs to toe the line and reflect your company's values but it's more than this. It's about getting all the visual language correct, right across the board. You get it right and you can get the brand to work for you- to achieve results for you as it reinforces this gut feel.

And yes, it starts with the cup of tea...

When I visit a client's company (or a suppliers) I'm greeted at the reception and perhaps offered a cup of tea. All of your questions about this company can be found in this cup of tea. But I'm not talking about tasseomancy!

If I were given a chipped mug, or a posh china tea cup and saucer, or an Elvis mug-I (or you, I'm guessing) would immediately start to make judgments about this company. Is it rich, poor, flippant, conservative, young and dynamic.... We may be WRONG about these assumptions, but we can't help making them. When we meet people for the first time we make judgements about what type of person they are based on their face, their voice, their accent, their clothes, their hair, their movements, their body language. All in an instance. And we usually stick with these ideas, rightly or wrongly! That's why first impressions last and why, if you work at it, you can help get some ideas quickly into the head of the client/key partner/supplier.

As humans we know about body language and in a similar way we are quite sensitive to the visual language used in communications design: which type is used, the colour, the tone of voice in literature. All of these things add up in our minds and create an impression of a company. We just can't help it!

Check out this company's website and compare it with this one and this one. Three very different approaches to the same problem: "flogging plumbing stuff" (I use this language deliberately-none of the companies did, right? Because using those particular words give an instant feel. This effect works similarly in a visual way too.) Each may be 'right' in its own way- it really depends on how they've done their homework and if each site gives the right type of client for them a nice warm fuzzy feeling. Try it with your friends' company sites...!

And this doesn't stop at the logo or corporate stationery, it should permeate the whole organisation: how the building is lit, the colour of the walls, the carpet, how the phone is answered, which hold music is used. These all build to make an impression and cerate an idea of the sort of company it is. And most importantly is the first impression: it's the way the receptionist greets you, how they treat you, if they are friendly or not, and of course, how that cuppa looks.

Got it?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Why do I like the Nissan Qashqai?

Argh! I can't get it out of my head. "Oh! Look there's one. Hmm. Nice!"

It's exactly the sort of car I shouldn't like: SUV type car (although it seems that this is a crossover of sorts, as according to this article it has little more than a Ford Focus footprint on the road!), it's name is taken from a nomadic tribe implying all sorts of off-road antics which I just don't associate with my urban driving (nor do I want to!-described as “Urban Nomad” style. Honestly!), but....

"Oh yes, there's the funny skateboarding Qashqai advert. Hmm. Nice!"

I think I worry too much. Global warming. Fuel crisis. Economy downturn. Rising bills. Plus I'm attracted to a car which I *shouldn't be*! So I'm not going to worry. I think the marketing-design of Nissan have done a good job.

Damn them!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Creative Spirit

Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning I took interest in the "...and finally" piece discussing the name of the new Russian president, Medvedev a tricky one for our English mouths to get around apparently.

What interested me most was the process by which we, as a nation, decide to pronounce foreign words. It has always been a great mystery to me why we don't just say a foreign place name how it seems in English. We don't for instance say "Par-ee" for Paris. We pronounce it: Par-is. No problem there is there? Well no, but the expert from the pronunciation unit of the BBC maintains that policy is to keep older forms such as Paris the way we say it, but for names we encounter now we have to make an effort to form the correct localised pronunciation. Radio announcers don't have to sound exactly like a native speaker as the BBC is broadcasting to primarily a British audience. Which makes me wonder why we go to all this bother? The market for the BBC is British- can't we say it the way it seems? I tried out the words on the pronunciation unit's page without looking at the explanation and I made a pretty good job of it. The main errors I made were of stress not phonetics. John Sergeant, who was also contributing to the show, made the point that the French refer to Mrs Thatcher as "Szatsher". The French know who they are talking about and an English person listening probably would too (despite having a little giggle). Famously London is Londres and Edinburgh the improbable Edimbourgh (said Edimboor)... So why do we do it?

I feel it's to do with a mis-guided feeling of not wanting to offend. A desire to make sure everyone is ok. "Everyone ok, got everything you need? Cup of tea anyone?". Driving a car in England is a pleasure compared to many other European countries, but if you don't obey the unwritten rules of the road of being courteous then you incur the wrath of the English driver: they snub you! Or try and block you out. Why? Because you didn't follow the rules!

Interestingly I also find Britain to be one of the most creative places I have lived and worked. Creative in terms of risk taking: let's push boundaries, analyse deeply in order to find a solution and really "think laterally". I've been in many technology brainstorms where ideas flow freely and creatively without inhibition, where there are no rules to knock you back if you say something a bit outlandish or creative. This, I feel is where the true nature of the Brit lies. A free, creative spirit- not the stuffy bowler topped business man who spends half his time wondering how to say Medvedev .

If you wear a bowler hat then follow this link:

Friday, February 15, 2008

Adding a poll to a website

A client has asked me to quickly add a poll to their website (which means no time to pull in a programmer!). Quick googling has come up with:

This gives an editable poll which can be easily inserted into HTML. It's advert free, but is hosted on the international voting website. Quick and Dirty....

Google- thank you!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Still no word from the Real Shaving Company

Still no word from the real shaving company! Has been at least a week since I sent the letter first class. I'll make a note to call them this week. I sent it to the marketing manager thinking she or he may be interested in the idea of the mismatch between the design and messages portrayed on the packaging and the real deal of using the product.

They're probably busy.

Update 15-02-08, 16.22: Rang the number on the packaging: no answer (I let it ring about 15 times). Checked the website: same deal.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The symbolism of the sword!

I'm reading a book about signs and symbols. This is an are which fascinates me. For me it's linked to the development of communication and written language. How did we develop writing systems which were pictographic, or a picture of say a cow... to the written letters forming the word cow! Interestingly the letter 'a' which derives from the Hebrew aleph for bull doesn't feature in the word cow or bull! Anyway- I digress...

My eye alighted rather on the article in the book regarding swords!

Swords which stand for power and virilty with their phallic form. He who holds the sword upright and threatens is to be feared! Perhaps I'm over-egging the virile element of a sword. After all, I'm not quite sure what other form a sword could take, other than phallic! There are some Bronoze Age Celtic swords which were 'leaf' shaped, but all in all it's a big metal stick with a pointy end :-)

Interestingly the sword is used when honouring Knights to bestow honour and authority but the book also says the sword can be seen as a symbol of purification. I wonder whether warriors of old thought of their swords as a purifier-cleaving the enemy in two to 'purify' them! Maybe. Maybe not....

The sword is often a violent symbol of death and power.

Japanese swordsmen do have, however, a slightly different take on this called Satsu Jin Ken / Katsu Jin Ken, or life-taking sword / life-giving sword. When the sword is applied without discipline it is destructive or Satsu Jin Ken but with experience and ability the master of the sword can resolve matters without the drawing of the sword, or by the re-sheathing of the sword to show an intention of peace. This is Katsu Jin Ken. Iaido is in fact a non-combatative mental discipline as much as it a physical one. Iaido is the art of drawing the sword but futhermore can be seen as "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction"(ref: wikipedia), thus we see the handling of the sword in a thoroughly peaceful way for the personal development of the practitioner.

Life taking and life giving sword.