One of the first friends I made via this blog was the Dutch designer Ko Sliggers. We've never met of course (though maybe one day we will). But Ko pops up in my in-box every couple of years to tell me about the next exciting project that he's involved in: usually connected with food or typography, and more often than not, both. Anyway, I have news of Ko's recently-published book – and I'll tell you all about that soon.
But in the meantime, Ko has asked if I could introduce you to one of his former assistants – an A** young Italian designer, Simone Bertini. And when I say A**, there can't be many designers out there who achieve a final mark of 100/100 with honours for their degree.
Simone is now looking for a job or placement: somewhere where he can both design as part of a team and improve his English at the same time. Ko explains: "Simone wants to learn English (Italians don't learn it at school mostly) in England. He likes to make a combination of working as an assistant and improving both ways his competences, in the design field and communicating more internationally :-) Now he speaks very very little English but is rather good in working out typographical and design concepts."
You may well think that this blog is dead. But it's not: it's merely resting. Just waiting for the right moment to return with a vengeance. Although that might not be for some time yet. I'll keep you posted though – you can be sure of that.
But meanwhile life goes on. And it might surprise you that I've been having some very interesting chats with designer friends. Virtual friends that I've met on here: albeit friends that I've never met. Perhaps one day I will.
Anyway, one of those chats involved my giving some advice. I'm always happy to do that, if you ask me nicely. But I don't force it down people's throats. God forbid that I should ever turn into one of those "you don't want to do it like that, you want to do it like this" fellows. There's enough of them already. Particularly among designers (or, should I say, a certain type of designer). I'm sure you've met them, too.
But back to the advice, which was this: when you first become self-employed (and if you're a designer, you almost certainly will, one day, become self-employed) the best advice that I can give you is to always follow your first instinct. That's about the people you meet and the work that you'll be asked to take on. That is, if it feels right go for it; but if it doesn't, proceed with caution.
It was advice that was given to me on my very first day as a solo artist. And it's always stood me in good stead throughout my career. I'd like to say that it never failed me, but that wouldn't quite be correct. Sometimes something happens, something that you couldn't have foreseen. Something that is beyond your control, and which spirals towards disaster.
So let me take you back to 1984. A time when you might well find me listening to:
I was working in Covent Garden (OK: on the fringes of) at workplace number 6. Alongside some very talented and like-minded folk. Good times and happy days. The office had two secretaries: for it was a job share (yes, we were ahead of the times). Now the afternoon secretary did a morning shift at an architectural practice based in Chelsea, and come early 1984 they were in need of a freelance graphic designer to help them out on a particular project. Would I be interested? Damn right I'd be interested.
So arrangements were made and an appointement set: I would meet one of the partners who would sound me out and tell me all about their requirements. The date: 28 March 1984.
But this was the Thatcher era, remember. Turbulent times. And on 28 March 1984 there was a London Transport strike. So, no tube trains and virtually no buses anywhere in London. But I was lucky, I managed to hail a cab in Shaftesbury Avenue that delivered me straight to Chelsea for my 2pm appointment.
And so I met one of the partners, Peter N. A nice chap, and we had a lovely chat. Mostly about the narrow boat that he'd bought and fully restored somewhere in the Midlands. We seemed to get on well and the job was outlined to me: designing the display panels for a new UNESCO-funded museum in the Middle East. Fantastic, I thought. So it was a yes from me, and a yes from Peter N. Terms were discussed and agreed, and we arranged that I should start work in two or three weeks time. We'd keep in touch by phone and arrange the exact date once other team members had been consulted.
And so it was that I found myself back on the streets of Chelsea. Mid-afternoon on the day of a transport strike. Not a free cab to be found anywhere. And to top it off, it had started raining.
What a long and miserable trudge back to Covent Garden that was, I can tell you. And I should have realised that that was the omen. But I didn't.
It's Friday afternoon, right? I've stopped blogging on Fridays because my visitor stats tell me that come Friday afternoon you've all sloped off to the pub, or your house in the country, or whatever else you get up to when the weekend beckons. Whatever, you all seem to stop stopping by over here.
So where to start? With Bowie, of course. And my favourite Bowie track.
What a f***ing enormous mistake that was: in my head it was his finest hour. And I should have left it there. Safe in my memory. Playing in my head - the perfect funk fusion. But, oh no, I had to search it out on YouTube.
And then the next thing popped up in my newsreader:
But first of all a recap. Right back at the start of my career I applied to join the Chartered Society of Designers. I'm glad I did. And I was a very happy member for 30 years or so - and sometimes a very active one. And it's how I got to meet one or two of my design heroes - Brian Webb included.
I thought that might be the end of the matter. But no, the subject keeps on popping up every so often. And it's the most active off-line subject on this blog, because I'm regularly contacted by members or ex-members who are very upset. Upset because like me they've dared to ask some questions - and they've experienced the same sort of response. And its not the way that loyal members ought to be treated.
So here are just one or two of the concerns (and I voice these as a gesture of friendship, not as an attack upon the integrity of those who are responsible for running the society).
95% of the society's income is spent on its staff (according to the last published accounts, that's two people) and its running costs. That has been the case for very many years. In my view, that's not in the best interests of the membership.
In 2002 the society set up a separate trading company: that company had a turnover of £5,050 in 2011 (up from £1,873 in the previous year), yet owes is carrying a liability to the society in excess of half a million pounds. Many might think that there's something not quite right there.
If I go onto the society's website today (that's 30 November 2012) I'll find out that I would be very welcome to attend a society-organised event, such as the London Focus Group. And that the next meeting of that group was nine months ago - on 27 February 2012. And I'd be left wondering why a 95% expenditure of income can't even deliver an up-to-date website.
I could go on, but I won't. I will put out a heartfelt plea, though: If you're involved in the running of the society, do take notice of what I (and others) say. I mean it kindly. I wish you well, I really do. So don't go on the defensive. Don't get angry. And don't threaten me with legal action.
Is anyone taught how to design for print these days? I only ask because a design template crossed my bows the other day: it must have originated from a designer, but a designer who obviously knew very little - if anything at all - about print. Here's a taster: body text set in 8.5pt Univers Light with -10 tracking, reversed white out of C33 M0 Y100 K16. And if you know anything about print, you'll know just how wrong that is. The odd picture caption, maybe - but not body copy on an A4 page.
And it wasn't just the type: the bleed on the outer edge was a somewhat generous 68mm. And where you might expect that the spine edge might not need a bleed at all, this one had been set up at 36.667mm.
Anyway, that's obviously the way that things are being done these days. Unfortunately.
But it did at least get me wondering. Because if you have been taught (properly) to design for print, then I would wager that you invariably set your bleeds at 3mm. And I would also guess that most printers you deal with would specify the requirement for 3mm bleeds on any artwork that you send them. There are exceptions, of course: some printers even ask for 5mm.
Why, though? Because if you visit any commercial printer (newspapers excepted) and you get to see the finishing department, then you'll probably be shown the laser-guided guillotine which can trim to the accuracy of a gnat's whisker. So why do we still work with the default bleed of 3mm? Because if a printer delivered you a job which was 3mm out of trim, you'd have every right to reject it.
Surely these days we could all manage with, say, 1.5mm? Which can make all the difference for a designer when you're dealing with a photo image with a very tight crop (yes, it does happen). And just think how much printing ink would be saved during the course of a year.
Here's a simple DL invitation from 1982. I seem to recall that I used to knock out stuff like this almost on a daily basis. And I was lucky to be able to get away with such a simple concept on this one.
But look how 1980s it looks (at least to me). The white border for a start. It seems that everying I did in the early eighties had a 5mm white border. Maybe it was just fashion. Or maybe it was because printers would charge (a lot) extra for anything that bled off the page. Why? Because they could, probably.
And then there's the typography. You wouldn't think that one word could say so much. But only to a typographer.
And another sign of its times: this was an invitation to a 'Taste of England Crunch' on board the frigate HMS Londonderry in Nice Harbour. Needless to say, I wasn't invited to the event myself.
I told you last week that I've been having a bit of a clear out. It's stuff that's been hidden away in the attic for years. Stuff that has no other purpose but to remind me of where I've been and what I've done. And most of this batch seems to consist of either college work or artwork and print samples from the 1980s. What surprises me, looking back, is just how productive I was. Or how productive I had to be - which is probably more like it.
And the other surprise is that there are things in there that I can't even remember doing.
Anyway, most of this stuff is now on it's way to the recycling facility. It's pointless keeping hold of it any longer. But so that it doesn't completely disappear without trace I'm going to post a few things up here. Which at least will mean that they continue to live on for a little while longer.
So let me introduce you now to my very first 'proper' professional assignment - a little leaflet for what was then British Rail. And the story is this: I didn't design this. I just artworked it. And only for the money.
You see, I left college on a Friday and (you'll be astounded at this) I already had my first two jobs lined up for me, the first of which started the following Monday. (I told you about those jobs, or at least the buildings they were in, here and here.)
One of my college lecturers was off on holiday at the end of term, and therefore asked me to artwork this freelance job that he'd been working on, and to deliver it to the British Rail production office on the Monday morning. Which I was pleased to do. The money was good. And I remain grateful for that.
And the moral of this story? Well, you may very well have your sights set on a black pencil, but sometimes it's necessary to do this job for nothing other than the money. And that's OK.
But not all the time - that would be soul destroying.