Archive: Design

I have a problem with cutesy copy, particularly when it comes to error messages. I understand that they are trying to be friendly and personable, but it’s usually not what the user wants or needs. Often, a friendly error message just leads to more confusion.

Take Firefox’s “well, this is embarrassing”.

Firefox error message: "Well, this is embarrassing."

I was once asked for advice about this error message.

“Should I be embarrassed?”, I was asked.

This is part 4 of 4 in the series London trip (February 2012)

Day four map:

London map day four

This was my final day in London, and my train was at 2pm. So I had only a few hours to spare in the morning, and decided to take in the Design Museum as my final activity in London.

There were two exhibitions on when I visited, both of which are still currently on.

On the first floor is a Terence Conran exhibition. Called The Way We Live Now, the exhibition outlines the massive contributions Terence Conran has made to the British design industry since the 1950s.

On the second floor is Designs of the Year 2012. I found this absolutely fascinating. It’s tempting to think that wandering round looking at these designs is like having a sneak preview of the future. It spans everything from funky lighting to magazine designs; from the Olympic torch to potentially life-saving furniture.

Some of the objects on display were really great contributions to the improvement of the world. Take, for instance, the earthquake-proof table, or the redesign of the ambulance which it is said could reduce hospital admissions by 60%. This is design at its best, with a social conscience.

Sadly, there is currently nothing from the Design Museum’s collection on display. It will be good when it moves to its new, larger premises in 2014.

Design Museum mug: "Good Design = Happy World"

Downstairs there is a great shop with loads of cool design-related stuff. I got my hands on Type Trumps 1 (I had already received Type Trumps 2 as a Christmas present). I also bought this cool mug, which I think sums up why I’m interested in design.

Then, sadly, it was time to make my way back up to Dundee.

Just My Type cover

My name is Duncan and I am interested in fonts. Against my better judgement, sometimes I blurt out this fact, and people run a mile.

But is it becoming acceptable? Simon Garfield’s book, Just My Type, would make it seem like a perfectly normal interest. Though there is a nod and a wink towards the quirkiness of the subject, the book is a serious and well-researched work, crafted with passion and wit.

This is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read. It is breezily written and easily read. I don’t think I have ever made my way through a book so quickly.

It covers everything from the ubiquity of Helvetica to the illegibility of Grassy. You go on a journey using Johnson’s Underground and road signs in Transport. Political lessons are learned through the font choices of Nazi Germany (gothic) and Barack Obama (Gotham).

The amazing thing is that each of the fonts covered in this book could almost have a book to themselves — or at least an essay. At most, a font is given a chapter to itself. Yet you go away feeling that you have been given all the salient information in an astonishingly concise fashion. Nothing necessary is left out of this book. Nothing unnecessary has been put in.

Even for someone like me, who was already interested in fonts, Just My Type has taught me to at fonts in a newly enlightened way. For instance, my appreciation for the design of an ampersand has been greatly increased. The vivid description of Garamond’s ampersand (“resembling the darting tongue of a lizard catching flies”) is one of the book’s highlights.

Segoe UI ampersand

It has clearly affected me. Today I suddenly noticed that the ampersand in Segoe UI (the font Microsoft use for their user interfaces) resembles a cat licking its paw. Now I can’t shake that image out of my head.

Clearly, if you are interested in fonts, you really must buy this book. If you are not interested in fonts, you really must buy this book. You will be surprised at how fascinating it is. Simon Garfield is the perfect writer for it. His bright tone is far away from any nerdy connotations that the subject might evoke.

This is probably the perfect book about fonts. It might even be the perfect book.

This is part 2 of 4 in the series London trip (February 2012)

Day two map:

London day two map

Barbican architecture tour

Shakespeare Tower from Frobisher Crescent

St Giles' Cripplegate bell tower

Owing to my developing interest in brutalist architecture, I decided I would take a look at the Barbican Estate to see one prominent brutalist project in the flesh. I took a look at the Barbican Arts Centre website to see if there were any interesting events on. To my delight, I discovered that they do architecture tours.

The tour lasted just over 90 minutes, and was a fascinating insight into the project. The tour takes in parts of the Barbican Arts Centre and large parts of the estate.

From a distance we looked at the City of London School for Girls and the incredible St Giles-without-Cripplegate church.

Lauderdale Tower

It was absolutely freezing cold that day. This was the day that temperatures plunged to −7°C overnight. I am not sure what the temperature was during the day, but it certainly felt sub-zero.

The problem was that I was so fascinated by the tour — and we were standing in the outdoors for most of the time — that I didn’t think to put on my gloves only occasionally noticed just how cold my hands were. I think they are still recovering from the damage.

But that can only be a good reflection of the architecture tour. And as you can see, I got some great snaps. It was possibly the highlight of my trip. If you’re interested in architecture, I would get to one of these tours if you can.

Frobisher Crescent
Original Barbican pedestrian map
Barbican plaza

All of my photos from the Barbican estate:

Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

In the afternoon I made my way over to the Museum of Brands. It is hidden away a bit, but once you get there it is like hitting upon a treasure trove of nostalgia.

The museum tracks the evolution of brands, packaging and advertising since Victorian times. You make your way through a winding tunnel, surrounded by cabinets jam-packed from head to foot with countless vintage packaging. The majority of this tunnel is laid out in chronological order, allowing you to see the trends over time.

To some it might seem like an obscure topic to have a museum about. It might be easy to dismiss it as a shallow nostalgia fest. But these ostensibly disposable objects tell the story of everyday life in the 20th century. It’s telling a social history too. And there cannot be many better places than the Museum of Brands to document this history.

There are stories about emancipation, technology and even international relations. One of the most striking items I noticed was “Adolf Shitler” toilet roll, designed to keep spirits up during the second world war by allowing people to wipe their arses on Hitler’s face.

I have a couple of criticisms. The layout is very claustrophobic. The corridors are quite narrow, so it’s easy to clatter into somebody else if you have just been peering into one of the cabinets. Also, the lighting isn’t great, and the cabinets are stuffed so full that it’s quite difficult to see some of the items.

I would also say that there is too much on display. It is quite overwhelming. On the plus side, I am certain that I could visit again and notice things that totally passed me by first time round, and I would be happy to do so.

If you are interested in advertising, design, or 20th century history in general, I would recommend a trip to the Museum of Brands.

Campo de Carabobo (1)

There was a bit of feedback on the brutalism post that I wanted to share, as well as an article I was already aware of that didn’t quite fit into the original post.

First up, this interesting article in the Guardian that defends brutalism. It is an interesting viewpoint. I would also recommend reading the comments, which provide the full range of opinions on brutalism.

Fuck Yeah Brutalism is a simple but brilliant tumblelog. Simply photographs of brutalist buildings. A brilliant celebration that demonstrates the beauty of brutalism. Looking at this, it’s almost difficult to see why brutalism would be so fiercely reviled by many.

Thanks to Jonathan Pelham on Twitter for pointing me in its direction.

Finally, a friend informed me about these abandoned brutalist monuments built in Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s. They look absolutely spectacular.