Monday, August 02, 2021
Monday, May 31, 2021
Ken Garland has died at the age of 92. I had this copy of his Graphics Handbook while still at school and was delighted to find him as a tutor when I went to study typography at Reading. According to Jonathan Bell's obituary just published in Wallpaper, this would have been his first year there, in 1971. I think it was Ken's concern for communication, not ornament, that sent me in the direction of information design, and I took his 1964 First Things First manifesto seriously: "We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes."
Flicking through his collection of articles and lecture notes, A word in your eye, I recall how good a writer he was. There are subtle and appreciative obituaries there of Henry Beck, Alfred Wainwright, Anthony Froshaug and Ernest Hoch, beautifully observed, and I hope someone more capable than me will write one as good for him. Ken was hugely supportive during some difficult times following the launch of Information Design Journal, and I feel very lucky to have known him and to have been taught by him, and that my career took its direction from his ideals.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
This sign outside a church in Bath shows good design thinking.
It's on a busy road but drivers might glance across.
We know it's a church. We know they meet on Sundays. The only thing that's worth saying legibly enough to be read at a glance is '10.30am'. And the sheer size of it gives a strong affordance of 'you're invited'.
After an awful customer service experience, you want to vent by writing it up on Trustpilot. But no one wants to read your fifty line rant.
So how about a simple scoring system, so you can say, for example:
"Cooperative Bank (to pick a brand at random... not really)120 minutes time on phone10 days to resolve my problem225 Marks of Shame."
This way people would get a measure of the severity of distress caused but don’t have to relive it. The Marks of Shame would accumulate rather like the way they mark Olympic ice dancing, with each move given points for technical merit and artistic impression. For example,
- Each hour waiting on phone: 25 points
- Each time The Four Seasons starts again: 10 points
- etc... I'm sure you'll have your own favourites.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
I've just discovered the American poet Wendell Berry, who writes beautiful reflections on life, the countryside, the seasons, belonging.
Throwing away the mail
not even simplification.
Thus, throwing away
the mail, I exchange
the complexity of duty
for the simplicity of guilt.
Friday, December 11, 2020
An oxymoron is when two contradictory terms are used together, usually for rhetorical effect – 'deafening silence', for example.
How about this instruction from Made.com about how to return a chair that just collapsed after 2 years:
No, Made, that's not as easy as possible. It's as difficult as possible. Who keeps the packing for furniture?
We’ve made our returns as easy as possible. All you'll need to do is:
1)Re-package your item (they’ll need to be in the original packaging or a suitable alternative)...
Sunday, November 15, 2020
On a church door in Italy.
I know that's supposed to be a tourist guide in the top icon, but having just emerged from the Uffizi I'd seen a lot of images with a larger central figure with raised hand and a halo...
Incidentally, that's a man's hat in the icon - women are fine with hats, and in fact St Paul insisted on them.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
The comic book character Dan Dare is 70 this year. If you don't know of him, ask a sixty-something year old Brit who read Eagle comic as a child.
Here's my Dan Dare pop-up book:
'...Einstein may have crafted this aphorism, but there is no direct evidence in his writings. He did express a similar idea in a lecture but not concisely. [Composer] Roger Sessions was a key figure in the propagation of the saying. In fact, he may have crafted it when he attempted to paraphrase an idea imparted by Einstein.'
"An interesting item and the story is indeed Bestall's and the date noted above it is in the hand of Ian Robertson who was the Rupert Editor at the time this was reprinted in the Express.The story is Rupert and Raggety and the reprinted story used 27 of the original 40 panels.It would appear that the Express have used a b/w copy of Bestall's original artwork and someone has coloured it for reproduction in the newspaper. Who the colourist is I do not know but they were using Gina Hart as a colourist at the time so it could be she.How this escaped from their archives I cannot speculate but it is an interesting and unique item."
Simplification often involves pruning information that has grown too long. It's often grown too long because of ill discipline in the writing process – we forget what and why we're trying to communicate, and each thought sparks off another.
The wonderful Eric Blore shows how it's done in this clip from the Fred Astaire film Shall We Dance?
Monday, October 19, 2020
When banks warn you about fraudulent emails, they always advise you to look out for spelling mistakes. But why is it that the fraudsters can't spell or recruit a reasonably literate criminal to proofread for them. I think there's an opportunity here.
Here's one I got today:
Yep, definitely dodgy I'd say.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Visiting the Uffizi in Florence, it was refreshing to see graphic prohibitions that don't try to be traffic signs. I don't think I've seen this way of showing a negative on a public sign before (rather than a smartphone app).
We thought it pretty odd to find a You Are Here map just outside the gents at Pisa airport. But then we noticed the tactile path leading to it. It's a 3D map for people with sight impairment. So pretty good.
Double negatives are controversial. Pedants may think that 'I didn't do nothing' means 'I did it', but we all know the second negative is an intensifier.
So hopefully this doesn't come across as 'Don't use the litter bin'. But risky.
The great journalist and editor Harold Evans died on 23 September this year. Simon Schama wrote in Time magazine's obituary that Evan's career was 'a supreme reminder of the indispensability of fearless journalism to a democracy grounded in truth', and that he 'showed time and again that the hard work of uncompromising investigative reporting could defeat cowardly cover-ups, corruption and conspiracies of lies. He wrote and he edited with a fistful of facts.' Timely remarks for today.
He played a significant part in our smaller world of information design. As the obituary in his old paper The Times put it:
'Evans believed good newspaper design, rich in striking photographs and explanatory graphics, was essential to good storytelling and his interest in appearance extended to the choice of typeface in headings and text. This visual preoccupation led him to write the book series Editing and Design and, with the help of his inspirational head of design Edwin Taylor, Pictures on a Page, which elevated newspaper design to a fine art.'
As you would expect from a journalist, he was a prolific writer and his books on newspaper design and photojournalism were hugely helpful for the work we did on graphic formats at the Open University. Under his leadership, The Sunday Times was a pioneer of what we now call infographics, and his co-author of Pictures on a page, Edwin Taylor, spoke at the first Information Design Conference.
Journalists explain complex issues to their readers, and information designers have a lot to learn from them. I was proud that Harold Evans agreed to be on the editorial board of Information Design Journal when we launched in 1979.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Too Much Information Did Not Read
Way Too Much Information Did Not Read
Public signs should include a comments section, or in this case some FAQs to explain why this road is closed but no work is happening (Margate again).
Monday, August 17, 2020
Thursday, August 06, 2020
Tuesday, August 04, 2020
Friday, July 31, 2020
Friday, July 24, 2020
Wednesday, July 01, 2020
Monday, March 16, 2020
This is all too familiar, and over a long career I've had a few of these experiences, some of which are possibly still covered by NDAs or the Official Secrets Act so detail is not possible. They are infuriating and disappointing because even if we have charged for our work that's not the only reason we do it – we want to do great stuff and improve the world.
One notable one from around 20 years ago was a major government form that almost every citizen uses. We redesigned it and ran a large scale live pilot which showed we'd dramatically reduced error rates. The government agency realised that each error took a civil servant around 30 minutes to deal with, and the reduction in errors therefore meant that they would have to fire or redeploy around 1000 people, leading to a probable trade union dispute. They just took some minor aspects of our work which reduced errors by around 6%, which was their target for the project.
I have also heard civil servants worry that the improvement was so great that it would make them look like idiots for putting up with the old version for so long.
And I have had work ruined by in-house designers or contracted branding agencies who were tasked with implementing it, and digital teams who insist on controlling everything.
Monday, February 24, 2020
Thursday, February 20, 2020
The EU published a chart showing the scale of trading relationships with various partners. It uses circles to represent amounts, and I've blogged about this before (well, it's nine years ago now...).
You shouldn't do that because humans can't compare volumes as well as they compare lengths. This is what Isotype was about...
Below left is the comparison they made. Then I've show the comparison by length, and, even better, horizontal bars with a block for every 10 billion and the figures provided.
According to Politico.eu:
'David Spiegelhalter, a professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University, said the Commission's approach was "indefensible" and went against "standard graphical practice."
"It's also the biggest mistake to make. It's incorrect to use diameter to represent volume," he said, adding that it was "the sort of thing a junior person would do."'...or a graphic designer, I'm afraid.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
I stopped in 2016 because of various distractions, notably the rebuilding of our home and the design and construction of the garden, which is my pride and joy.
It's all settled down now, so I'm once again in need of an outlet for my opinions, observations and anxieties... however few people are listening.