I expect you've noticed that it went a little quiet around here prior to last Friday. It's a sign of one of the small changes that happened to me in 2011: the failed discipline of making myself (or a guest blogger) post at least every working day of the week. But in a way it neatly summarises my relationship with 2011: it was a year of small changes and nothing very much happening. I went into it thinking that it was going to be a year of enormous change. Which it was for millions of people around the globe. A year of momentous changes, and very few of them for the better. And here am I contemplating that nothing very much happened. Maybe after all that's an achievement by itself.
And I stopped talking about design very much, as well. Did you notice that? But after all, what was there to talk about. It was hardly a vintage year for design, was it? Can you remember anything you saw and immediately thought "I wish I'd done that"? No, I can't either. It was more likely an inward sigh and a thought of "well, at least the money must be good". Lucky for those who can sniff it out.
But 2011 had to be about something, didn't it? And I'll tell you what it was for me: the year of being surveyed.
I couldn't move without being asked to fill out an online survey about the 'brand experience' I'd just enjoyed. Brand experience, my ass.
You know what? I caught a coach. From one city to another (and back again). Not something that I do very often. But enough to catch the attention of the National Express brand police. Could I complete a short online survey to help them to improve the 'brand experience'?. Sure, no problem. Question: 'did you use the on-board toilet?' (or words to that effect). Answer: 'No'. Next question: 'did you find the toilet to be in a clean condition?' (or words to that effect), 'yes' or 'no'. And so it went on, five more questions about the toilet, each to be answered yes or no. And I can't move on to the next page of the survey until I've answered all these toilet questions. Oh, OK, I'll just make them up then. Anything to keep you happy. But I'll make sure not to use the toilet next time I catch one of your coaches.
And what about the BBC? They're no better either when it comes to nonsensical survey questions. 'How often do you visit the BBC site for local news?'. Easy: once or twice a day (I like to keep abreast of what's going on around me). 'What do I like or dislike about the site?'. Oh, it's getting harder. Now I've got to have opinions about it. Can't I just have a look, catch up with the news and get out again (preferably as quickly as possible)? No, I thought not. 'How easy is to find sports news?'. Look, buddy, you're talking to a man who's dedicated his whole life to the avoidance of sports news. Can I get out of this survey now, please?
And so it went on. Completely disgruntled on a scale of one to ten.
And what's 2012 got lined up for us? Oh yes, I forgot. That.
Is this really and honestly a great piece of applied graphic design? And isn't the whole point of pictograms the fact that you don't need words to explain what the picture means? Or am I missing something here?
What they never tell you before you become a designer is that the whole business is based upon the 'feast or famine' principle. Well I've already had my share of this year's famine, but fate determines that it now wants to pile it on from every possible direction. So I've got my nose to the grindstone: don't expect much from me this week as a result. You lot will just have to wait, I'm afraid.
If you've been hanging around this blog for a while, you won't be in any doubt about my views on the 2012 Olympics 'brand mark'. Some of you may be inclined to think that this is merely designers' bitchiness, but the rule that I apply to my judgement is governed by the words of Jeff Bezos: that "a brand is what somebody says about you when you're not in the room".
I bring this up again now because there is a very interesting article by Adrian Shaughnessy over on the Creative Review blog. And the most telling words in the article are, to my mind, these: "The dismally designed literature (not done by Wolff Olins) that is currently being pushed through letterboxes in East London shows what happens when communication is freed from its moorings; it slips into muddle and cliché. Similarly, Wolff Olins’ logo for NYC & Company, the New York tourism body, met with a hostile response when applied clumsily to its iconic taxis by the client recently."
So, when it comes to the 'brand experience' (surely the whole raison d'être of the Wolff Olins pitch) it seems that what's being served up are curate's eggs. Whether that's entirely due to Wolff Olins is, of course, debatable. They may well be cooking and serving the excellent parts, but the poor curates amongst us still end up with something that can be pretty hard to stomach.
In case you missed it, there's a great interview with Hamish Muir (one of the three co-founders of octavo) over at Swiss Legacy. What particularly strikes me, as we draw to the end of 2007, is the similarity between what was going on design-wise in the late 1980s and now. As Hamish explains: "In London at the time, design was very ideas oriented – visual jokes, puns, clever copywriting, gimmicky use of printing and finishing techniques. In terms of typography, it was very different to what was happening in Europe – in the UK things generally followed a kind of traditional approach and it seemed type was always there to support the idea or image, it never seemed to be the idea or image itself.
So what we set out to do was to make design where type and typography were central to the idea. Where type would be the image."
It seems to me that the birth of the new ugly may signal a renewed 'call to arms' to those who appreciate the art of typography.