Cartoon on the back of a business card from gaping void.
I don't want to give you the wrong impression here, because more often than not I become great friends with the people I work for. But there are always the exceptions. And, if only we could spot them beforehand, there are usually some giveaway signs. Like the personalised-number-plate men that I mentioned last week.
Number two on my list is the client who finds it necessary to introduce himself with the words "I used to be...". In my time I've had "I used to be at The Partners", "I used to be at Sky TV", "I used to be a racing driver" (yes, really)... and countless others. Strange the people who define themselves by the job they once did, and usually some time ago as well. It reminds me of the line from the Bolton ticket man in the Monty Python parrot sketch - "I don't have to do this job you know. I'm a qualified brain surgeon. I only do this job because I like being my own boss."
But at the very top (or maybe it's the bottom) of the list of clients to be avoided is the one that declares "I used to be a designer".
It's interesting that everyone who answered Friday's question correctly identified that these were words that only a politician speaks. But what's illuminating is that all of the politicians suggested happen to be labour (both new and old). Because such is the vacuousness of the statement, it could indeed have been spouted by any labour politician over the past 40 years, from Harold Wilson to Gordon Brown, via Bryan Gould and Peter Mandelson.
But you're all wrong I'm afraid, because the sentiments were expressed by that woman who thought that British design meant slapping the Union Jack on to anything that moved, the Iron Lady.
And facing her on the opposite page is that arbiter of all things progressive, the king to be.
He says that "we possess a wonderful legacy of design ideas and traditions on which our new generation of designers can build to produce products of quality and beauty to match any in the world." Indeed, it does seem that he'd managed to spot the young Jonathan Ive before the rest of us.
These come from a 1986 book that I've just found on my shelves: Profile 2 - British Design Groups and Their Work.
Goodness knows how it came into my possession or why I've kept it. But it does make for interesting reading some 21 years on. It profiles 58 design groups who were at the top of their profession. However, this is not a D&AD annual where the work is selected by one's peers (provided one's paid to enter, of course). These are 'paid for' profiles (advertisements in 'disguise'), and therefore a much more accurate gauge of the business of design, rather than design excellence. And it's certainly hard to find anything that one might consider to be excellent today.
Indeed, it's hardly any wonder that we failed to conquer the world again when what we had on offer included this:
But I thought it might be interesting to take a look beyond the design examples themselves and see how these companies have fared over the past two decades. And of the 58 companies listed, I can only find a trace of 21 of them as still being in business (that's just 36%). Even more alarming is that 52 of those companies offered graphic design, yet in 2007 only 14 of those remain in business (that's a mere 27%).
So, if you've just set up (or are thinking of setting up) a graphic design business, I have some advice for you based upon a look back over those 21 years:
1. If you have a choice, give up graphics and switch to product design. That way you'll have a much better chance of survival.
2. Move to Edinburgh - that way you've got a two in three chance of not only surviving, but flourishing.
3. Avoid London - if you don't, you've only got a 19% chance of surviving in the long term.
We haven't had one of those for a while. So, because it's Friday the 13th, here's a little question for you - who said this?
"Now, more than ever, as new competitors spring up around the world, British industry needs to harness the undoubted talents of our British designers. The challenges are growing - but so are the opportunities."
You can only produce good work for good clients. All designers know that (although, admittedly, they don't always admit it to their clients). It's not just me who says this - I'm backed up by Wim Crouwel in his interview over at the CR Blog and by Milton Glaser's observation that you can only work for people that you like, the first of his 'Ten Things I have Learned'.
But how do you know whether a new client will turn out to be good or bad?
My experience suggests that you avoid those with a personalised number plate.
Well I'm still hosted on Typepad, but today I've remapped my address to just davidthedesigner.com (though this one seems to need the www prefix). Whether that's going to work or not I'm not really sure, but I'm now nearly eight months into this thing, so it seems that davidthedesigner has become fixed as my new online identity. Now all I've got to hope for is that I don't get hit by blogger's block. Which was almost the case today.
Kevin asks what I meant when I said a while ago that "...Univers is my favourite font, simply because it makes you work so hard to achieve elegance." And I'm stuck because I can't really find the words to explain that. Except to say that typography is a craft and, as with any craft, the more you practice it the better you get. And the better you get at it, the more you understand just how to handle type. But it's very much an intuitive thing, and not something that can be achieved by following a set of rules. Yes, there are rules, but it's how you apply those rules that makes the difference.
And now let me direct you to something a little lighter:
That award was made in Boston in summer 2006 and Mark Simonson was asked to say some words in praise of Adrian Frutiger at the presentation. Mark explained how he first became interested in design and typography after preparing his high school newspaper and discovering that there was a typeface kicking around that was clean and sharp.
And how this led on to discovering that, although they were very similar in appearance, there were significant differences between Helvetica and Univers.
That Univers had been designed by Adrian Frutiger, and how he subsequently discovered Frutiger's book Type Sign Symbol.
It's a brilliant tribute to the man and his achievements and, if you ever wonder why designers can get so steamed up about whether you should use this or that particular typeface, I recommend that you read it. Mark's description of the event can be seen here, and the talk itself (which is in PDF format) can be downloaded from here.