Irritating gentlemen, distracted boyfriends and milkshake ducks

“The secret source of humour is not joy but sorrow; there is no humour in heaven” — Mark Twain would’ve loved Twitter. Since its inception in 2006, the platform has become home to both an endless stream of soundbitten misery and a very particular strand of comedic discourse. One-liner by one-liner, professional comedians, satirists, cartoonists and writers have found themselves up against … everyone. A logical progression of the ‘anyone can publish’ thinking that still drives the internet, editors and printing presses are no longer boundaries to getting jokes out there in front of a cackling/heckling public.

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Pestering artists about their pens

Jeffrey Alan Love recently tweeted a sketch, simply captioned “illustrator’s funeral”. Leaning over an open casket, a mourner asks one final question of the deceased: “What pen was that?”. Ah yes, the question, I know it well. Artists, particularly those with distinctive styles (such as none-more-black Love), must spend an unseemly amount of time fielding this one. The thing is, it’s not so much the corpse I relate to in this situation, but the inquisitor. I don’t know why, but I simply must know what tools people use.

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Type safari

If you have a bit of time on your hands (or indeed if you don’t, but are procrastinatively inclined), may I recommend a stroll down the infinite scroll of typesetting.co. It’s an archive of type found on the streets of Leeds – all the painted, stencilled, chiselled, carved, forged, tiled, scrawled, unique, peculiar characters that populate the city. A welcome change from the sterile perfection that your computer beams into your eyes all day long.

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Art gallery

Staving off freelancer hermitism, I’ve decided to get myself out of the house, find other places to work every once in a while. So today I’m at York Art Gallery. It’s a great spot – there are comfy seats, a respectable wifi signal and a serenity rarely found at home. Just the gentle background hum of polite coughs and slow footsteps, interrupted by the occasional flat automated voice of the lift, filling the silence with a notification of her movements. It’s all nice, the perfect environment for getting my head down and some work done. Except no. Within minutes, it becomes apparent that this was all a terrible, stupid idea. I forgot about one little thing. This place is full of art. Bloody art.

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An A-Z new year checklist

Happy new year! The cheeseboard is bare, the Baileys has run dry, and auld acquaintance be forgot – time to get back to work. Time to pause and reflect on how and where and why you do what you do. Behold, an A to Z checklist of all the things you need to get the year off to a good start.

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Flâneur

I’m in that London you hear so much about (you know, the one off the telly) and I’ve got time to kill before I have to return to York. I think I might get lost. I came down to catch up with a client. The meeting went better than expected – there were sandwiches and I didn’t break anything. Most of my interactions with clients and suppliers and suchlike are conducted via email (and increasingly via abrupt quick-fire exchanges on Twitter DMs), so being a proper human in a room with other proper humans made a nice change.

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LP

There’s a theory that recorded voices can be drawn from tiny irregularities in the surface of ancient ceramic vases, having picked up vibrations while their clay was still fresh; like grooves laid in vinyl. It’s probably a load of baloney, but it’s a nice idea. Along those lines, I’d like to think that each of my projects has a bit of music in it; the rhythms of the grid subconsciously translated from whatever I was listening to when I worked on it. 

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Week

Remember Week? I liked Week. Week made sense. I appreciated how Week was neatly divided into a cycle of manageable chunks; five for work, two for cartoons and jigsaws. The UI of Week was a bit skewiff – fashioned from a hotchpotch of Norse mythology, Judeo-Christian DIY habits, pagan leftovers, Roman gods and planetary orbits – but it mostly worked. Week provided the comfort of repetition. You knew where you were with Week.

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Nothing

I have nothing on my mind. Not nothing-nothing, you understand, but nothing. This was the subject of a book I worked on recently: the concept of nothing, the value of nothing, the significance and interpretation of an absence of … thing. Weird and fascinating texts written by intimidatingly clever people cross my desk all the time, but this one was a bit special. I’ll let you in on a little publishing industry secret: most books are, by and large, about something. Something is the designer’s friend. You know where you are with something. Nothing, now that’s a rare visitor. What does it want? Where do you put it? What does it look like?

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On designing with colour

The other day, listening to a recent episode of North v South, Jonathan Elliman and Rob Turpin’s banterful design podcast, I found myself fervently nodding along to a particular subject of conversation. Turpin made an admission that sounded all too familiar:

“I don’t understand why people seem to see so much more colour than me. To me, the grass is green. Maybe two or three shades of green. But some people innately have this ability to see another spectrum of colour – they’ll paint a self-portrait and it’ll be purples and greens and deep ochres. I’ll paint a self portrait and it’ll be … pink. Can they see more colour than me? Is there something psychological that prevents me from recognising or expressing those colours?”

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Impressions of the wilderness children

So this happened. It came about because lovely copywriter chap Jon Ryder noticed some weird wording on a sign, and then equally lovely copywriter chap Jonny Cullen suggested it would make a good title for a horror movie (starring Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins), and then original lovely copywriter chap Jon Ryder threw down the gauntlet for me to turn it into a cover (see twitter for the whole chain of events).

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Working from home

“… and it wasn’t a factory, it was a prison! So they kicked everyone and turned into helicopters! And they flew off like THWOPPA THWOPPA THWOPPA!” — the boy is updating me on the latest escapades of his Transformers. I think. To be honest, I’m giving him completely divided attention. My brain is still upstairs on my desk, dealing with a flurry of demands that keep plinking into my inbox. It’s one of those weeks where all of the deadlines happen at once. Printers and art directors and marketers – everyone needs everything right now.

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Decluttering

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
—William Morris

“What’s all this crap on my desk? Bloody hell.”
—Daniel Benneworth-Gray

It’s a new year, and my work is down there somewhere, beneath sedimentary layers of paper and crockery and present-wrapping detritus and lord knows what; physical clutter that mirrors the mess of half-formed ideas, anxieties and distractions still lingering from 2016. It’s hard to get motivated. Time to tidy, to simplify, to start the year afresh.

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Full Table

I’m sorry. By the end of this post, I will have completely eradicated all productivity from the rest of your day, simply by mentioning fulltable.com. Don’t worry, this isn’t the first of a ‘hey check out this URL, it’s like totes inspirational’ series (if I was going to do that, every month would simply be a link to that site where a life-size blue whale swims through your browser window), but this site, The Visual Telling of Stories, is rather special. I simply had to share it … and not just because I thought there was a small chance that it was maybe cursed.

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For almost a year now, I've owned a sealed copy of David Bowie’s final album, ★. And I haven't listened to it, not once. Somewhere between ordering it and receiving it, the unthinkable happened and the context of David Bowie's final album changed in an instant. Bowie clearly knew what was coming – he has always known what is coming – and apparently it's right there in the lyrics, the videos, the design of the album. This isn't merely a collection of new songs, it was an end, a farewell, a sealed envelope on the pillow of a hospital bed. 

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Designing for architects

One of the great things about being a designer – particularly a book designer – is that you’re constantly exposed to a diverse array of industries and subjects. Every job opens up windows to peculiar corners of the universe and little educations in big subjects. For example, on my desktop syllabus right now I have titles on history, film, economics, psychology, art and architecture.

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The end matters – thoughts on index design

It’s offensive o’clock in the morning, I’m sweatily clamped into my headphones, my desk a Spirograph of fresh coffee rings. I’ve been here for hours. And right now I’m very aware that I’m not doing two of my favourite things: creating and blinking. I’ve been designing a big book for the last few weeks; the sort of big book that has lots of big chapters and big pictures and big contributors with big words. After lots of to-ing and fro-ing with editors and proofreaders and publishers, we’re at that very special final stage: the index.

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Holiday

This is incredible. Myself and the wife and the boy have managed to juggle schedules in such a way that we now have a week off. I'm not entirely sure how we did this. Sorcery may have been involved, souls bartered, something dark and unnatural that will one day tear us asunder. But hey, a week off is a week off. And it's not just a regular week off, watching Columbo and painting our toenails – we're going on holiday. I've heard whispers from other freelancers that such a thing is possible, but always assumed it was an urban legend or perhaps a meme I didn't understand. Yet here I am with my lovely family, on a train bound for Keswick and peaceful lakeside frolics. Not travelling with us today: the computer, the inbox, the admin, the reading, the writing, the tweets, the pins, the job. For the next seven days, I am not a designer. 

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