Holiday

Monday—

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. 

Tuesday—

Oh now this really is very nice. I don't know why we don't do it more often. The rental cottage is delightful, the sun is shining, the scenery is … I mean, it's all very … did I … did I turn my computer off? It'll be okay, won't it? It's not as if it'll just burst into flames without me there. But now I think about it, did I send that email with the thing about the thing? And what if I've received an urgent and meaty brief that needs immediate attention? Was my last pre-holiday tweet inadvertently massively offensive? Did that invoice get paid? Ack, what the hell am I doing all the way out here in the middle of this damp nowhere, ignoring my livelihood? 

I shouldn't worry, I'm sure it's all fine. Maybe tomorrow I'll just check up on things.

Wednesday—

Just. Just is a snake of word. Could you just do this one job? Could you just pop in for a meeting? Sir, could we just have a word about the airline’s dress code? Just has no place being on holiday. Just should've stayed at home. And yet here I am, pacing the shores of Derwentwater, waving my phone around to get a half-decent reception so that I can just have a quick look at my inbox. 

This professional itch is taking far too long to scratch, and there’s only so many rocks I can precariously perch upon. In my head I can hear the computerised mantra from Duncan Jones' Moon: searching for long-range comms … searching for long-range comms … signal failure on long-range comms. The view from Friar's Crag is all well and nice, but if I can't get a steady 3G signal then damn it all to picturesque hell.

Thursday—

The Pencil Museum! Cumbria may be one enormous phone network oversight, but if anything can distract and bring joy to a wandering designer, it's a critical mass of stationery. Pencils! The world's biggest pencil! Colour pencils! Espionage pencils concealing tiny maps! More pencils! An enormous and horrifying pointillist portrait of Chris Evans made of nothing but pencils! Pencils!

And do you know what's particularly brilliant about the Pencil Museum, aside from the pencils? The wifi. I don't know if it technically constitutes loitering, but we've certainly dawdled in the gift shop for longer than is considered acceptable, leeching as much broadband as possible. Sure enough, important emails have appeared. Important emails that I can do nothing about. Never mind, I'm on holiday and I've got souvenirs that I can doodle with. 

Friday—

Cheese. Mostly cheese.

Saturday—

Somewhere, somehow, another email crept through. Maybe I crossed a ley line or something? Anyway, I've been asked to chip in on a quick vox pop thing for a design website. Quick is almost as evil as just, but I have this unbearable need to please. Fortunately, whilst getting well and truly lost in the wilds of slightly-outside-Keswick, we came across a nice little cafe with the holy trinity of coffee, wifi and Victoria Sponge. It's another slight deviation from the plan of a week away from work, but I simply couldn't live with myself if I left a pop un-voxxed. I'm not a monster.

Sunday—

Homeward bound. It's been amazing, but work seeped into the rest and play. Only now, travelling in the wrong direction, do I feel completely distanced from all those things I was meant to leave behind. When we get in, maybe I'll pop online and book us another holiday. Just a little one.

Originally published in Creative Review.

Meanwhile

As well as this here blog, I also send a weekly newsletter, Meanwhile. It's just a few fascinating things I've found on my travels, nourishment for hungry brains. Only the very finest links, no spam.

Expect to be distracted by concrete, dinosaurs, modernist toys, magazine design, comics, scotch eggs, fatherhood, urban sprawl, holes, inky smells, stationery, difficult art, umlauts, aquatic robots, spaceships, Lego (never "Legos"), abandoned places, Fincher, Kubrick, Spielberg, cities, wilderness, more dinosaurs, fonts, etc. 

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Jurassic Park and effective restraint

With Jurassic World fast approaching, the Onion AV Club has looked back at the original film, with an interesting article comparing Jurassic Park the book to Jurassic Park the movie. It argues that the latter succeeded because it shifted the focus from the adults to the kids, both on the screen and in the audience. Basically, fewer spilled intestines. 

JP artwork by Sam Wolfe Connelly for Mondo.

JP artwork by Sam Wolfe Connelly for Mondo.

One interesting little fact pops up In the piece: of fourteen minutes of dinosaur effects in the film, only four are CGI. For a film that is considered to be a major turning point in computer effects, that's rather astonishing. Just think how pixel-laden big films are these days, barrages of computer effects that just blur into noise. Four minutes. 

At the time of its release, a lot of fuss was made about the film's revolutionary CGI. Given how well they stand up two decades later, it was of course justified, but all of that hype detracted from how Spielberg was using those effects. He wasn't playing with the latest toy just for the sake of it (a bad habit that contemporaries such as Robert Zemeckis, George Lucas and James Cameron have fallen into); he only used CGI when it was absolutely necessary. There's a whole lot of model work, animatronics and puppetry in there too – it's the blending of it all that makes it work. Using the most appropriate effect to get the shot to tell the story, that's all that matters.  

And those shots are used with incredible restraint. Technical difficulties on Jaws taught Spielberg how to be economical with effects and spectacle, and that really pays off in Jurassic Park. It could've just been shot after shot after shot of dinosaurs dinosauring, but it isn't. Rather than show you the great big awesome thing every time, Spielberg points the camera the other way. He's more interested in showing people responding to what's occurring off-screen. It's about combining action with reaction, and keeping the story focussed on the characters rather than the events. 

(This approach pops up in numerous Spielberg films, most notably War of the Worlds. It isn't his greatest film, but it's a masterclass in concealment. There is enormous, terrifying action throughout, but we're not allowed to look it. We hear it, we glance at obscured reflections of it, we see the aftermath of it, we watch as people watch it. The entire film is a call to our horrible, horrible imaginations. Of course, this is all very apt – the invaders ultimately succumb to an unseen enemy.)

To delve deeper into what Spielberg was doing on and off screen, it's well worth tracking down the fantastic The Making of Jurassic Park. I'm surprised it's not back in print – it deserves to be expanded and given the chunky, hardcover treatment of the recent Star Wars making-of books. 

Jurassic World hits cinemas on 11 June. 

Non-Format

Over the years, Non-Format have been a huge influence on me. It's hard to pinpoint precisely what it is about their work that appeals to me, but there's something about their use of black type. It just seems blacker. Anyway, I just wandered onto their site for the first time in ages and it's still full of lovely – well worth a visit.

Back to the Back to the Future future

Watching this advert for Lego Dimensions, a thought occurs. We're now thirty years on from Back to the Future, a film set thirty years on from … itself. Which means that Christopher Lloyd is finally the age that he was pretending to be (assuming that the he was among the younger version of Doc Brown as his own age). Or rather:

 If 1955 Doc Brown is the age of 1985 Christopher Lloyd, then 2015 Christopher Lloyd is the age of 1985 Doc Brown.

See? And now my mind hurts. 

Creative Review, June 2015

image.jpg

The new issue of Creative Review is out – this month, focussing on how the creative industries are engaging with our ageing population. I'm in there as always, dropping accidental Hawkwind references and writing about accelerated decrepitude. Plus there are great features on designing for dementia, the branding of Hillary Clinton, and architect legend Frank Gehry. 

It's a slightly biased opinion, I admit, but I reckon the new thematic approach is really paying off. Each issue offers a more cohesive read than most magazines, with the scope to tackle a given topic with depth and diversity. Plus there's real variety from issue to issue, providing a much-needed glimpse to what's happening outside the design echo-chamber. 

Perhaps this model is the best approach for magazines to coexist alongside the more erratic and ephemeral web. Look at Little White Lies for example: in print, they follow a thematic approach, with each issue full of articles about and inspired by that month's featured film. It works brilliantly, and prevents the magazine from simply being a compilation of old news and reviews that appeared on the web weeks ago. 

Anyway, go get the new Creative Review and enjoy. More details on the their blog

Christina Ricci on The Face, October 1998.

This was the start of it all for me. I'd bought and loved magazines before – my teenage years can pretty much be summed up by three words: White, Dwarf and Select – but I'd never loved them as magazines. I loved what was in them, not what they actually were. 

Then one day, traipsing home from work, I found myself at London Victoria with too much time to kill. I did the obvious thing: loiter in WHSmith. And there it was. The Face, volume 3, number 21. Christina Ricci glowering at me from the cover.

WICKED. 

For some reason, this amazing magazine had completely passed me by up until that point. Maybe I'd been too young, too blinkered. But it found me in time. I can't remember any particular details about this specific issue, but it did enough to get me hooked. It only had a few years left in it, but I made those count. I bought news issues and whatever old ones I could find on eBay. This was the first time I'd had a relationship with a magazine like I do with a film or a record – every issue mattered. When it got it right I loved it, when it got it wrong I hated it. It was fickle and tasteless and pretentious and crass and fucking brilliant. 

Not quite sure how to deal with the Internet or shake off that bloody "80s style bible" tag, it eventually withered and died, but it left behind some classic issues. Some of the covers from my time with it are still etched on my brain: Ed Norton's bloody nose; the dot-to-dot Spike Jonze; Spice Girls giving it all that. But it'll always be wicked Christina Ricci that means the most.

There have been other since then, but here it is, here's where the magaholism started.

Originally written for My Favo(u)rite Magazine