There have been about 3 posts in my drafts folder for ages. And then today, like Paul on the road to Damascus they've all come together in one delightful little package.
Let's start with data.
Everyone is very excited about data right now. Data is everywhere. Google are to blame for quite a lot of it, but so are things like the Freedom Of Information Act, the Internet, Andy Gray, Sky Sports and a whole bunch of other stuff we call the Information Age. Nothing new there.
Just look at the watch in that photo.
Except that now we're starting to see this data used and reused and repackaged and (crucially) redesigned in lots of different ways. Redesigned in sexy ways, redesigned in innovative ways and redesigned in different ways to suit different audiences. Same info, different look.
Lets take a look at one of my favourite examples of this. On One Map.
That site uses a Google Map and pulls in data from estate agent's websites and Government statistics. It can tell me there's a 2 bed flat for sale for £895k and four mobile phone masts 400ft from the office. All of this data is (sort of) freely available. I'm no Property Geek but what I love most about this site is how you can search for a new house by visible map rather than funny drop down boxes. So you can look for properties near Drury Lane rather than searching for <1-2 bed> <£500k-£1000k> <flat>. That map is a much more intuitive, easy to understand device.
All data that's freely available to you or me. But it's not just online. Take a look at these gorgeous data representations from Global Cities exhibition.
That's just some boring stats made to into a must see 3D thing.
And here's a film of Lisa Strausfield's model of downtown Manhattan in action.
It's just data. But incredibly beautiful.
So, effectively you can now get your data styled however you like. This is a huge step and has massive implications for designers.
Let's take something as ubiquitous as Google Maps. You could (nowadays) have a widget that printed off your map in the same style as an A-Z for Black Cabbies, in the style of a Beck Tube Map for Graphic Design Geeks and in the style of the Alliance to Restore the Republic for Sci Fi fans. That is not only possible, it's probable.
So this changes the game a little bit for designers and brand owners, because you could easily end up losing control. You might not want your data redesigned as a Tube map. But you can't stop this stuff happening so what do you do?
Obviously some brands (and designs, branding work etc) are already kitted out for this world.
Here's a simple example; imagine some copy from an innocent bottle written in a light serif font and then written again in a heavy mock Western font. Visually that would give off a totally different vibe, right? Yet it would still be unmistakably innocent.
Likewise, The Economist can shoe horn that red and white into just about any form of media and (love it or hate it) it's still The Economist.
Orange - if they'd stuck closer to the path they started on - would now be the complete masters at this. Visual style, colour, tone of voice, it would all be set up in one orange pixel.
Becuase what we're talking about is proper branding. The kind of branding Wally Olins spoke about at the RSA in the 70's.
So it might be possible control the output of this data by cleverly structuring, or designing, the data in the first place. (Governments are good at this - all those expensive inquiries where the 'terms of reference' are so narrow only one answer is ever going to be found.)
But we're seeing this in more immediate, less expensive areas too. The humble RSS feed is a great example of how users can design your content however they want.
But it's not just data and identity it's the web too. Have you tried designing a website recently? Those things just won't stay still.
I was talking to someone the other day about the difference between print design and web design and I listed three things that are true for print design but not true for web design.
In print design you control the experience.
In print design everyone has the same experience.
In print design history is a reliable guide.
These things just aren't true in web design. People have different browsers, different screens, different font sizes. The conventions change from one month to the next, what worked last year doesn't work this year. Peole don't start at the start. There is no start. And so on and so on.
Designers have been told to worry about this for years, but only now is this era truly upon us.
In fact it seems to me we're going back to what graphic designers were originally intended for - wading through information and making it easier for people to take in. That's the difference between a designer and someone who just makes stuff look good.
That's what designers have always been doing until everyone went a bit of track in the eighties and nineties (can you ever imagine David Carson wading through information and making it easier for people to take in?). Mabye the information age is helping bring back some purpose to design. Read this article about the redesign of the US road signage to see how valuable clarity in design is.
Which leads me on to one of my favourite things - hierarchies. Every good designer should be able to design a great hierarchy. Almost every piece of communication will be improved by a good hierarchy.
But I've probably bored you all now. Hierarchies will be another day.
I got this magazine the other day. It's called The Next Issue.
It's not just a magazine it's a whole new thing. "The Future Department (who have but together The Next Issue) is a growing network of interesting people from disparate creative and business disciplines. The Next Issue is their magazine."
Now, I'm aware all that above sounds like total bollocks. But it isn't.
Secodly the networky bit means you can connect with an amazing (and I really mean that) bunch of people across the globe (and I really mean that). But there'll be more about that later.
Thirdly the magazine has articles by John Maeda, Will Alsop, Anomaly, The Sag, Digit, Imagination and Taxi. All good, very good people. It's also available as a PDF. I think the idea is to end up with just a PDF or some digital format. Click on The Future Department above for the online version.
I'd said I would write something but I didn't get round to it. Kicking myself now. Which reminds me of a bloke I know who once told me that he'd been invited to sit on a panel at the Royal College of Art. He turned up for the first panel but didn't bother for the second. He missed the third session and then he received a letter saying they'd kicked him off the panel. From that day on he vowed two things; to never accept a place on a panel unless he knew he was able to make every meeting and to take things he'd volunteered for seriously. Good advice.
I got sent these great cut out / pop out letters by Lauren today.
No reason, she just thought I'd like them. Which I do. A lot. The thing is Lauren lives in Australia, so it took a little more effort than usual. Thanks Lauren! (Speaking of Lauren, read this and try not to see red with envy.)
If you want to send me nice stuff please do. Please don't ask me to blog about parties that I wasn't invited too.
They look cool on my oh-so-modern all white desk ensemble, don't they?
We had a printer turn up this morning, unannounced. He just knocked on the door. His business card assured us that he was "passionate about print". Which made me wonder how many other printers were "passionate about print".
Richard AceJet170 has submitted his entry and it's lovely.
I'm not just saying this because Richard is a friend, I'm saying it because the typography is nice and it's sensitively handled. The image is intriguing, relevant on several levels and beautifully shot. All this and it's clever too.
1. As I've mentioned before (in graphic detail) we compost in our house. It's very good fun. But it's a little inconvenient to take potato peelings or banana skins or Tesco's compostible packaging out into the garden as and when. It's nicer to store them up and then take them all out at once. That's a better use of time. So I looked everywhere for a kitchen compost pot, or a compost-before-it-goes-to-the-garden holder thing, but I couldn't find one. So I made do with this little tupperware box instead.
It does the job perfectly. It has a little flap for slipping in a tea bag and a big lid for emptying the thing. But still, you would have thought that someone would have designed such a thing, wouldn't you? You know, to encourage people to compost.
2. We drink a lot of milk in my house. So much milk that I ended up having to pick up an extra pint almost every night on the way home. This combination of bad household management and post Tube forgetfulness anger led to me stopping a milkman and asking if he delivered to our street. He did and now we have lovely milk delivered straight to the door. And of course it's absolutely brilliant.
I suspect millions have people have said this before but it's reminded me what a brilliant system a milkman is. Those glass bottles are wonderful things, much more sustainable than all that plastic and we're reusing them too! On the Refuse, Reuse, Recycle scale a milkman is firmly in the Reuse bit.
Which reminds me that new isn't always better, and this tugs at a thought I've got that we've probably already got a lot of the climate change/ sustainability / design solutions it's just that we threw them out in the name of 'progress' or more likely 'revenue' and 'sales targets'. But it's not just that, you instantly trust your milkman more than Tescos and you've very quickly got a decent relationship with him. I don't want to be the billionth person to bore you with the suggestion that milkman should deliver post and parcels and so on, but this reminded me of the Yakult Ladies. Yakult Ladies deliver Yakult in Japan in a similar way to how we deliver milk in the UK. Except they do much more than that, in some instances they have the keys to your house and they pop in and put the Yakult in the fridge. They also do something Yakult calls 'Social Activity Born of Delivery Work' [scroll down]. Brands, you could learn a lot from that.
3. Lastly, I've started a DVD rental website.
It's called eBay. Here's how it works; say you were reminded by Wil's illustration that you'd always meant to watch Any Given Sunday. Log on to eBay and buy it. It's gets delivered direct to your door in a few days, total cost - a couple of quid. When you've watched the film, sell it again. You could even use the same envelope if you wanted. You'll sell it for, ooh, a couple of quid, making the whole transaction fiscally neutral to you. Obviously newer DVD's cost a bit more, older ones a bit less, but repeat forever and you're effectively getting DVD rental for, err, nothing.
I've been doing this for a few months now and it works like a dream. I know you have to wait a few days for the film to be delivered and I know (shock horror) that the DVDs are second hand, but when I hear friends' tales of woe regarding Lovefilm or Amazon DVD Rental I can't resist a little chuckle to myself.
This is a brilliant unproduct idea. No more stuff is being created and yet money is still being passed through the system fulfilling the urge humans have to spend and greasing the wheel of capitalism at the same time. More money, no more stuff. Surely the Holy Grail?