An illustration used for the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay.
At the moment my first year students are learning about the importance of grid systems and typography whilst designing a magazine front page and double page editorial. This got me thinking about when I learnt the importance of grid systems within my design work.
I undertook my degree at Glamorgan University, and before you say where? let me tell you that they now have an amazing design campus in the centre of Cardiff, and the guys that taught me design there have been some of the most influential people in my life, both personally and as a designer. But it wasn’t until the beginning of my second year of the degree that I learnt a very good lesson about the use of grids in design.
The project in question was for the hotel chain Malmaison, and it was to create an interactive experience for hotel guests to find out more about the hotel chain. As I never took a foundation course, I went straight from finishing my A Levels into university and in some ways this was a great display of trust in me from my lecturer Gareth, and the potential he saw in me as a designer. You see, I wasn’t the most outlandish designer, but I came from a background of engineering and technical drawing, and this gave a different slant to my designing. I didn’t fear doing something different, because at this moment I didn’t focus on what I couldn’t do and took each experience as a learning curve and my designing really did become different to those around me.
As such, the hangover from my technical drawing background meant that I understood the importance of spacial awareness in my designing, making sure that elements had a hierarchy and were visually balanced. However as I developed over my first year I started to become a bit looser with my designing, and the culmination of this was the start of the second year and the Malmaison project. I made it look artsy, using typography and images, and forgot about the fundamental importance of the conventions of design.
Cut a long story short, I got destroyed in the critique. I worked myself to the bone to create a lovely artistic solution, but forgot about all the basics.
This really made an impact on me as you can probably tell, and it was a lesson that I have learnt from and to this day will always focus on the basics of layout before focusing on making something look pretty.
It was a turning point in my fledgling design career at that point and to have someone that I respected as much as Gareth give me such a bollocking, I knew I needed to go back to my roots.
I can only put across how important it is to make design clear and legible before anything else. Without this principle, you lose the the fundamental purpose of what you’re designing, which is to communicate effectively, to everyone, not just to show off and be pretentious, design should never exclude.
Now let me put this into context, I sat with my a few of my students today looking at concepts which could help them further their current project, when we clicked over to www.thedieline.com - a site I regularly use and peruse to see new exciting designers and design work. We sat there and looked at one design, and we all came to the same conclusion. Over the duration of this post you’ll hopefully understand our reaction to it and why it created such a strong sense of feeling amongst us - so sorry if this is really long (clairewaterworth!!) but please try and stick with it.
The design which caused so much reaction was a simple redesign of an ice cream brand. The brand in question was ‘Mr Creemy’ a localised brand of ice cream usually only available in Wales and the redesign was handled by Bluegg, a ‘design’ agency from the Welsh capital Cardiff.
Now; before I go any further, you can go read the post at the dieline before reading mine if you want, just to make sure I’m giving you the chance to be objective: www.thedieline.com/blog/2010/11/19/before-after-sub-zero.html
Back to my original question, creative design, why bother? Whilst reading through the post at the Dieline we all started to get annoyed at the blatant ‘inspiration’ that has obviously informed the design process here. So annoyed, the question of why are they even bothering to learn to be creative and individual when this sort of design can win awards was risen.
The fact that this design has won an award we all felt sickened by. Yes, it is a nice slick design, much more modern than the previous packaging, but really? It won an award? (and no it wasn’t an award for most blatant ‘lifts’ from other designs)
The fact that we could all sit down and name at least half a dozen different products it riffed on is testament to not only my students observations in graphic design (which was slightly reassuring as their tutor!) but the fact that Bluegg have obviously not thought about the exposure such an award would bring to the product.
Kevin Jenkins, Chief ice cream maker said, ‘I couldn’t have asked for more from Bluegg . They have created a completely new brand, which is vibrant and imaginative. Their approach is always full of personality which is why they’ve been able to capture everything that Subzero is about.’”
Now I have to admit, I have somewhat experience in this field which is why I feel that I can pass comment. Whilst working as a graphic designer, I too worked on a brand of ice cream only available in Wales, which had a rich heritage, but wanted a modern twist, without compromising and neglecting their history. They were incredibly demanding clients, but we all worked really hard to ensure that we captured everything they were about. Now when you reflect on the statement from Kevin Jenkins, take a moment, try and consider what ‘Subzero’ is about…..Typography? Black? Waitrose? Simple?
First off, my students thought it was a beauty brand, a bit like Lush, someone else pointed out it looked like Gu puddings, another said it was like EAT. and another championed the similarities of it to the Waitrose range of food. You see as disgusted as I was when first faced with this design, the true annoyance I had was when we opened up the ‘exciting and creative’ website. Now a picture says a hundred words, so look at the homepage and play count the rip offs……
It defies explanation.
If all this sounds a bit harsh for something so insignificant, well you might have missed the point. Its not the blatent rip offs that disappoint me within this design, it is the fact that a ‘well-known’ design consultancy has so clearly been quite uncreative with a design but yet it has been positioned into being able to be referred to an award winning packaging design. What message does this send to the next generation of designers such as the ones I am working with?
I try to push every single one of my students to be as creative and individualistic as they possibly can, whether it is creating their own typography, their own photography and most specifically not to make their work look like something else. Then they see something like this that makes them despondent.
It isn’t forward thinking, it is not exciting and it most definitely isn’t ’21st century’.
This is a case of Bluegg liking a style and positioning it to the client, the client should always come first, and never be asked to compromise the integrity of their product, whether directly or indirectly.
Obviously many design consultancies have their own style and use similar layouts and direction in different designs, but if you go through Bluegg’s website you can see many similarities on other pieces, not even nice direction at that.
I just feel sorry for really creative designers and students that can either not get get into design consultancies, or will be asked to compromise their creativity for the sake of the ‘house style’. At a time when designs like this are ‘award winning’ I really fear for the creative industry, because consultancies like this will continue to diminish the creative pool, as more companies are swayed by the label of ‘Award Winning Design Consultancy’ (again something that the boss of the consultancy I worked at used to labour to every new client, and it grated on me even then) Design and creativity should be measured in success and public reaction, and I would be very surprised that if this ‘rebrand’ would increase revenue sufficiently to label such a drastic change as ‘award winning’.
Street Advertising (obviously mocked up :/ )
So thank you if you have continued to read through this post, because I know it was long (and a bit of a rant!) but it really is an issue that really concerns me, as it appears this type of situation is becoming more and more of a regular occurrence.
So i’ll finish by giving you some links so you can make your own decisions!
(please be aware this is all personal opinion, and not a direct attack on anyone!)
The award the packaging won was part of the Cardiff Design Festival, so go have a look what could have won, and marvel at the fact that the Gower Cottage Brownies packaging wasn’t even shortlisted.
My friend Fergie linked me up to see this new design for the Welsh Football emblem. Now as an Anglo-Welsh person myself I find this so so annoying.
Not only have they redesigned something that is just wrong to redesign, but the fact that it was given to a London based design agency to redesign. Come on really, there are many many Welsh Design Agencies out there that could do with the exposure that a project like this can provide.
Now it may be evident that I haven’t really wrote any decent blog posts recently, well with everything that has been going on, I just haven’t had the time!
But, fear not! Something I have wanted to write about and feel in a good position to do it now is the season that all us designers love - the End of Year Degree shows!
The end of year shows can make or break certain establishments, with them either reflecting the hard work, and fabulous creativity that is bred among their students; or they can reflect on just how out of touch courses/lecturers/universities are out of touch with modern design or the industry. Two shows I have recently attended have shown these points to good effect.
The first show I saw reflected that the calibre of work that the students on the course had produced just did not sit where you would expect degree level students to be from an industry perspective. Fundamental elements such as typography, and imagery were just poorly executed, and after paying for three years worth of specialist education I would have expected the students to have been more knowledgeable and creative as to not have used comic sans on final pieces of work without a sense of irony. One thing that did surprise me was that the graphic designers in the show all virtually used stock or found images which I think is not the way to learn, because most of the time as a designer, you have to source images yourselves, otherwise where is the originality? Most consultancies will have someone in-house who is either a trained, or at least a very good photographer - and although you may feel that this is of little importance to a degree student, when they are showing their final degree work off, that is centred around these ‘found’ images, it makes you question just how creative they actually are. How would they cope if they were faced with a ‘real’ graphic brief?
It makes you think, what did they learn over the three years?
In contrast the degree show I attended on Friday in Cardiff was sublime. Of course there were some exceptions to prove the rule, and i’m sorry if you are reading this, but the ‘Man-Tan’ concept was one of the boards that held my interest least, but on the whole, the creativeness and freshness of the design was leaps and bounds higher than the other degree show.
Having attended Cardiff to undertake my degree, it is safe to say that the show would have blew our one some 7 years ago away, but at that time even then, design was a different scene. However, the lecturers are the same, and their approach to teaching is the same, the fundamental difference is that they constantly keep their eyes on the creative world, and inspire their students to do the same. As a lecturer myself, I feel as if I have taken this approach into my studio, and if the final major projects of my second year students is anything to go by, I think I have been a little bit successful.
What was evident at the first University show I have referred to, is that the illustration course seemed to have a wonderful grasp on the freshness of design, and more surprisingly, a wonderful grasp of good typography. Some pieces were exquisite, and I hope that the quality of their work shined through to industry experts that attended the show.
With the current economical climate, and with tuition fees set to soar to £9000 a year, I think now more than ever it is time for creative students to really explore what they are getting for their money at universities. Are they getting a well rounded course that allows them to learn crucial commercial lessons to take into the industry? Or are they getting a course that allows them to be experimental with design, but with less emphasis on how they can translate this into the real world? Or are they getting a course that is out of date and prepares them to fail in the industry, or to at least not reach their full potential?
The end of year shows can mostly represent this in a succinct manner. Even when talking to students you can understand how passionate they are for the course, either good or bad. The guys I spoke to at the first show couldn’t really talk about their designs with any enthusiasm, but at Cardiff they were bouncing to talk. There is no doubt to if I were hiring, I would have taken at least a dozen Cardiff designers, but maybe one of the others, in fact I would have employed some of the illustrators as graphic designers instead!
All this brings me round to my students final show.
I have been so impressed with their work ethic, and creativity this year, and each project reflects this in a positive way. I know that after discussing their final major projects with another lecturer, pouring over the in-depth book work, lavishly reading their annotations I have ended up with something that I am not only proud of, but knocked the socks off the other lecturer, and that will show just how talented my students actually are.
They are at a crucial stage of their development as designers, but the commitment and creativity they deliver makes me anticipate their degree shows in three years time even more! Because they are only 18/19 and have yet to even start their degrees, but I would welcome any other students or lecturers from universities to come and actually just see the talent on offer, because in some universities they would be jealous of the rich talent on offer here, and envy the degree level work they are already creating.
So I will anticipate that I will post some photos and video from my student’s final show soon, and hopefully try to attend a few more other shows and if any catch my eye i’m sure I will let you know.
But for all prospective university students out there wanting a career in the design industry, ask yourself - what is my uni doing for me?
My friend James Reid is a fantastic illustrator, please go look at the rest of his stuff here
Gary Speed RIP.
Wales Football manager and one of the nicest men ever.
I’m in total shock. Total shock.