A month in the life of a graphic designer

This month’s Creative Review is something of an experiment. We asked Michael Place of design studio Build to keep a diary of his activities for the month

Michael’s diary ran throughout the August issue. Below it is reproduced as one running piece of text

A month in the life…

Michael C. Place.
For Creative Review, 2007.

E17 07:48 – Studio 07:56, Keys, Door, Stairs, Door,
Key-code, Door, Power on > Modem, Printer, Airport, Desk, Switch, G5 power on, Blinds, Window, Pass-word, Font Explorer X, Photoshop, FreeHand MX, Entourage, iTunes [Strategy – Can’t Roll Back], Safari.
Build is Michael, Nicky, Brockmann [cat] & Betty [also a cat].

Thinking about Helvetica 50 exhibition design, Generation Press identity/print, Design Museum Shop, Getty Images Edit logo, Faber & Faber print on demand project, Get Involved club night poster, Our new identity/website.

Weekly meeting, discuss with Nicky [partner] on what we are doing this week, who gets priority etc. I find the business side of this job really difficult, Nicky is brilliant at it. I just want to design but I’ve realised that the business side is vital. Build is now a limited company. We are 5 years old. Year 1 [Months 1-3] – Dining table in a basement flat in Camden. Year 1-2 – Table in front room Fulham. Year 2-4 – Spare room Clapham. Year 4-5 Bigger spare room Walthamstow. Year 5 Current home, a dedicated studio space in Walthamstow.

Simple Sounds album sleeve design, photography by Chris Allen [see p39]. Just got the scanned shots for the album back from Paul down the corridor. Colour correcting day. Really enjoyable. Wren flew into the studio, chased around by Manni [cat], chaos ensues…

Leave 19:12.

Get in late [11:01] due to eczema playing up, quite depressed. Sat at home until it subsided. I really think that me having asthma and eczema has been fundamental in me pursuing a career in design. It generally kept me indoors, and my development for all things art was born from not being able to do all the things “normal” kids could/did do. My life would be perfect if I didn’t have eczema.
Music: Adam Johnson – Chigliak.

Worked on more Simple Sounds colour correction, sketched ideas for Design Museum Shop project [see p38]. Inspiration from my  old Letraset catalogues (I collect them, usually buy them from eBay).

Leave 19:22.

Music: Found Sound 3.
Design Museum Shop project, work up ideas [in FreeHand MX], send to Simon Armstrong at DM.
Start/Finish poster for Get Involved.
Leave [2:13] for meetings in town (Marc & Tommi re our new website + Patrick/CR re a month in the life piece).
Meet Marc & Tommi (Design Club, ex-Hi-Res! people) at The Diner (Hoxton), really exciting seeing our new site working for the first time. The whole website project has been a new thing for us. We asked M&T to not only build the site, but to design it as well, so we became the dreaded ‘client’! The whole project started in January this year and over the course of 3-4 meetings we are nearly there. Being the client was actually really enjoyable, Nicky & I found that we almost fell into the “good cop/bad cop” routine at meetings, I just want it to look beautiful, Nicky wanted it to be really functional. What M&T have come up with ticks both boxes. It’s really interesting to experience the process from the other side, and I can imagine it was quite hard at times for M&T, I found that when it came to type choices etc. I couldn’t hold my tongue! The technical side we were really happy for them to do their thing, the whole coding thing for me is a black art. Letting go was really hard, but I feel that I have gained something from the whole process. So now it’s just small tweaks, tidying up lay-outs and hopefully the site should launch in July/August.

17:00 Meet Patrick, Gavin & Nathan at Creative Review towers in town to discuss what we are going to do with this column/piece. Surprised at their office (I was expecting this swish “designer” place), so it’s not all glamour! Patrick suggested going to the pub (I was midway through a cleansing month off the booze at this point so I had a sensible Coke) to discuss how to do the piece. Got slightly worried when I discovered it was 12 pages and the cover. All sorted though, hopefully people will enjoy it.
Home 19:14.

Music: Bill Hicks – Flying Saucer Tour, Vol. 1: 6/20/91, Pittsburgh, PA [Live].
Get Involved poster tweaks, approved by Gavin [Lucas].
Start sketches/thinking for 50 exhibition print. New job, cover for Sun Electric (an electronic music duo that I used to do covers for at tDR), as someone who basically did record sleeve design for most of his working career I still get really excited by the medium. The Simple records sleeve for instance, working with Chris on the photos, travelling out to Epping Forest, dodging cars on the dual carriage-way,
un-used tennis courts and vast open-spaced car-parks, people looking at you like you are crazy for taking pictures of a lump of Yellow plastic at World of Beds™ on a very depressing retail park in E17. But then you get the pictures back, and lay the sleeve out and it becomes this beautiful (yet odd) narrative. I love seeing the beauty in objects/places that to most people are ugly and ignored. I think that’s the job of a designer, reacting to the environment, seeing beneath the crap of everyday life, seeing the beauty below.
2nd Year Brighton student Laura Southcott in for an interview/portfolio show for a summer placement. We get so many emails for placements/jobs and Laura’s was one that we liked enough to get her in for a chat. Now that we have the studio it’s been great having people come in to show their portfolios, it’s a really important part of a student’s course/life and one I recognise (I did a placement at i–D magazine and tDR when at college). Last week I did a talk at Ravensbourne to the 2nd & 3rd years and I tried to impress on them that this isn’t a 9-5 job (I know for some it can be). If you really want to succeed/get on then the worst thing you can do is turn up late and leave early, as soon as someone does that personally I forget about them. We offered Laura a week’s placement to see how she gets on [and as much for us to see how we get on with someone else in the studio], with a view to another 1 or 2 weeks.

More work for The Design Museum project, leave the studio at 02:30am. See two foxes on the way home.


Meeting at the bank. Realisation: All banks are crap. It’s just a case of finding one that understands a creative business. Being a small business, one of the things that can be a struggle is cash flow, people generally don’t pay on time. I made the mistake when I started of almost ignoring the business side of the company, it was all about the design and that still is true but now Nicky is full-time (she previously worked for Sony PlayStation) we are really working on getting the business side sorted.

Check proofs from Generation Press (a really good printer) for a side-project we are doing with them. Really excited working with Paul and Generation Press [see p48], we use them whenever we can. It’s very important to build up a good working relationship with your printers. I remember it used to be a bit of a battle, the whole designer/printer relationship, sometimes a real struggle to get what you wanted from a printer. We are also in the middle of redesigning their identity and print collateral.
Leave 18.11.

16.06.07 [Saturday]–
Still sorting out the room that we used to work from home, dismantled the shelves and brought them up to the studio. Studio still not finished, boxes everywhere, but Nicky is making really good progress.
Music: Innerzone Orchestra – Programmed.

17.06.07 [Sunday]–
Music: Isolée – We Are Monster.
Nicky assembles shelves, sorts out boxes of old tDR work. label copy in for Simple Sounds cover, lay out inlays ready for deluge of “thank you” credits. Collate notes/images for “A month in the life of…” piece. Say we will leave by 13:00, leave at 15:14. I always knew we would eventually get a studio space but never realised how positive the move has been in terms of work and life, whilst working at home I used to really enjoy it, I am a very focused person so I never used to slack off and watch the old black & white film in the afternoon (though I did watch Bargain Hunt religiously). I had the cats for company, I could work in my pyjamas if I wanted to (and did sometimes), but after a while, not being able to separate work from home started to become a bit of a problem. We used to walk past the mews and see this building at the end that looked interesting. We looked it up online and went in just before Christmas last year to look around. We were shown this space and were wowed, but thought it too big. We then got a call from the owner of the building who made us a very good offer and we moved into the space in late February this year. Having the studio has enabled us to do so many things we couldn’t do whilst working from home, from projects (spray-painting sheets of glass all night for D&AD) to having students in on placements, to thinking in a different way. The space really enables me to think more clearly, it’s less claustrophobic, lovely light etc.
Leave 15:14.

Received: 535.
Sent: 217.
Junk: 28.

Week 2

Music: Horace Andy – Skylarking [King Tubby Dub].
Email from Wim Crouwel, day made!
Afternoon Strategy meeting with Nicky. Plans & Designs. Who are we? What do we do? What do we want? Where do we want to be? Website launch/promo piece. Our stationery (no, we do not have any stationery). Keep the bird? Ditch the bird? Staff? Who? Why? Launch! Future? You sort of take the business and what you do for granted (well I do anyway), so it’s good to stop and talk about where you want to take it, aspirations etc, planning where you want to go/be.
Leave 22:17.

Music: Just A Groove – Nice and Mellow.
List for 50 exhibition at the Design Museum from Blanka is received. Deadlines set, under a month from opening, speak to Scrubs [Generation Press] regarding print.
Helvetica book from Veer. Treated Nicky to Walthamstow’s finest McDonald’s®(I always regret having one afterwards). We always love looking at the menu board and seeing these highly-stylised and smart-looking burgers, only to see the lovingly made, highly un-stylised sad old burgers appear. Whilst having our beautiful tea, a delivery was being made, million burger buns etc, but also ketchup/cooking oil in these beautifully designed boxes. The cooking oil box/graphics caught my eye in particular, a lovely graphic “drop” of oil, with a lovely piece of Helvetica. Then there was the box of drinks holders (the ones you get if you want to carry more than one back to your office/studio) with this lovely 3D drawing of “the container”. I’m also a big fan of the wrappers you get your cheesburgers in, the greaseproof paper ones, their paper bags as well. They used to have a lovely diagram on the side/bottom showing how the employee should stack the items in the bag (very handy). One of my all-time favourite fast-food chain identities is DUNKIN’ DONUTS, just beautiful. I collect their bits of packaging whenever I can, a recent trip to New York meant I came back with a nice haul. When Nicky and I were travelling, I was trying to get away from Graphic Design but we were waiting for a bus in Thailand and there was a DUNKIN’ DONUTS stand in the station, with a beautiful Thai script version of the logo, I spent a good 15 minutes (unsuccessfully) trying to persuade the lady behind the counter to let me have examples of all the various boxes/paper etc – the power of graphic design? I’m a sucker for a box, sad I know. I find them fascinating. Even graphics on the lowliest of boxes have to be designed by someone: I find myself wondering who does them? Who makes the decision to put the type there, at that size, in that font? The invisible designer.
Leave 22:40.

Music: Johnny Cash – Hurt.
New record for getting from door-to-door 6m28s. Nearly got run over by a jogger on the way in to work. I’ve known for a while now that I am seriously un-fit. I don’t exercise, I eat well, I used to drink a lot, I sit at my desk most of the time, the only exercise I get is walking to/from work, or going from my seat to the bar and back. I am 18 days into my month off the drink (A Month In The Life of a Sober Designer). So, it got me thinking about health, and our noble profession: are most designers generally unhealthy? When we were in Clapham I used to sit at my desk, and smugly sneer at the myriad of joggers. Round and round Clapham Common they’d go. I’d sit there, pasty faced, toasting them with my Dragon Stout. Someone asked me the other day what my other passions are and I couldn’t think of a single thing other than design, and that really made me depressed (going to the pub and the Jurassic Park Trilogy apparently don’t count). Is it important to have an “outside” interest? Are we a bunch of smug, electronic-music-listening [thanks Rich from the CR Blog], unhealthy people? Should I/we be getting out more?

Work mounting up (the “Bus” syndrome in effect). Thinking about hiring someone. Whilst at tDR I was pretty much left to my own devices, I’m used to working by myself, I enjoy it. My friend (and fellow E17 resident) Nima (NMo Design) asked if I’d like to work on a sort of journal idea with him and Zak Kyes – meeting to talk about it soon. Nima initially suggested we work on each other’s designs (do a bit then pass it on for the other designer to work on). This really freaked me out (we since have decided not to do that). I’m a bit of a control freak, I admire people who can work like that, and I understand a lot of the really big agencies do. Potentially getting someone in the studio, and “letting go” is going to be a big step for me/us. But a really positive one. Looking forward to seeing what Laura can do on Monday, and seeing how the studio dynamic changes.

Interested to see what Charles Front’s Rubber Soul hand-drawn lettering for The Beatles gets at Bonhams [CR: it failed to make its guide price of £10,000 and will be auctioned again later this year].

Music: Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie.
Switching off? Like most designers I find it hard to switch off. I was talking to Gary Hustwit (director of Helvetica – A Documentary Film) in NYC a while ago and I asked him if he was fed up with Helvetica. No, he said, but he was fed up with looking at signage/advertising/billboards around him that had bad kerning: once you are aware of it, bad kerning is everywhere. It’s the one thing that I find disappointing about a lot of student work that we see (that and spelling).

Feedback in from Simon at the Design Museum from the 4th round of ideas for their shop identity. I always get nervous when I present/send initial thoughts/ideas to clients. You invest so much time and thought into the work for it to be discarded or rejected can be really disheartening. We have now narrowed it down to 2 possibles.
Replying to questions for a Korean design magazine.
Vader arrives. We’ve been asked to customise a replica Darth Vader mask for a big Star Wars exhibition at Excel (London). How could we refuse?
Working up initial thoughts on the 50 exhibition poster. We’ve been doing a lot of posters recently, which I enjoy. Additional research on the internet for Helvetica 50 poster.
Like designers from my generation, my career started pre-internet. I wish students would use it to research the company they are trying to get a placement at. Quoting Adrian Shaughnessy’s How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, page 35 [Section – Approaching a design studio] – “And most heinous of all, I’ve received letters which began Dear Sir or Madam. I bin anything that begins Dear Sir or Madam. It tells me everything I need to know about the individual who wrote the letter – It tells me that the writer couldn’t be bothered to discover the correct spelling of my hard-to-spell name, and it also tells me that I needn’t take this any further. It’s easy to get this stuff right.” While we are maybe not as ruthless as Adrian, we do look at the work (even if they call me/us – Michael Palace, Plaice, Build by Design, Micheal, Build Design).

Leave 18:00.
Continue to work from home – drawing Androsace Helvetica, one of those typeface ideas that could look brilliant, or could look really shit, but takes ages before you can tell.
Finish 01:28.

Music: Deadbeat – Journeyman’s Annual.

ß Androsace Helvetica continued… still not sure, looked better last night. Mmmmm…
Proof arrives of our contribution to the Helvetica 50 show. Different designers were each given a year of Helvetica’s life to illustrate. We got 1969, so being fascinated by all things space (another designer cliché I know), I chose to do mine about the Moon landing. CR covers the exhibition in the new issue [July 07] that has just arrived.
50 poster starting to look good.
Leave 18:04.

Music: Interpol – Our Love To Admire.
Doubts about 50 poster confirmed after sitting on it over night, start again. When I do a new piece, I usually print it out at the end of the day and, when I go home, I take it with me and study it, think of ways to improve it, change it. I just watched a programme on the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition and one of the artists lives with her paintings for weeks before showing them to anyone. Harland Miller has a lovely piece [titled – Dresden Yeah, Cheers For That] in the exhibition.

If I get stuck on something I either do another project, or go out for a walk, or do something that doesn’t need any thought – doing the washing-up helps. Nicky is probably the one person I really listen to. If she says it’s not very good then it usually isn’t! Working alone (when I was at home, and Nicky was still at Sony) is not so great when you need an opinion (the cats aren’t so great on this), so I have a network of people I can mail for an opinion on work. Corey Holms (in LA), James Greenfield (BB/Saunders), Andy Hills (Roundel), Tom Kidd (Wash Design) & [illustrator] Mr. Bingo. They are like a virtual sounding board and have given me good advice over the years (thank you).

Our first work placement person is due to start on Monday. One of the most important factors is interacting with people, how a person fits in, more so at small studios such as ours. Their work might be brilliant, but if they don’t adapt to life in a working environment then it’s a problem: social skills, conversation, getting your thoughts across are all important. When we first started Build I found the whole being the centre of attention quite difficult to do. I was used to working at tDR before that, where we had the original Mr Big-Mouth™ himself, Ian Anderson, to do all the talking, be the public face etc, and that suited me. Now I really enjoy the whole process: meeting people, presenting, doing lectures etc. I really had to force myself to do those things but I genuinely enjoy (well maybe not the lectures part!) those things now. We like to think that the majority of people we design for enjoy the experience as much as we do.

People who litter really annoy me.
Leave 19:00.

Music: Photek – Glamourama.
Start again on the 50 piece, internet research. Flickr is your friend. Find some lovely hot-metal pictures. Every now and then I set myself little tests (from project start-to-finish in half a day, to no vectors on a piece etc): for the 50 poster [see p82] I thought it would be interesting to design the piece in the traditional way (hot-metal composing) but translate/use digital methods. Designed the poster in my sketchbook (I generally don’t draw ideas, I write them in words), then drew Helvetica Bold in hot-metal (from reference shots from Flickr), then constructed/translated my sketch on the page like a traditional galley (the type/design is back-to-front on the page), placing individual characters to make the design. Ideally the poster will be double-sided, one side being the “hot-metal/composed side”, the other the “printed” side. I remember doing “hot-metal” composition at York College, so it was interesting to be doing it again all these years later, albeit with a twist.
Email the piece to [organisers] Blam/Richard Seabrooke.
Leave 15:25.

Week 3.

Music: Kangding Ray – Stabil.
Write up last few days notes for this piece.
Laura arrives for her first day’s placement at Build.
D&AD New Blood tonight.
Start sketches for Faber&Faber type project.

D&AD New Blood student show. I didn’t realise it was so big! As part of the article, Patrick thought it would be interesting for Nicky & I to go down and pick out some people from the show. We get there dead on 19:00 and don’t leave till closing time at 22:00. I managed to get round the whole show, Nicky saw about two thirds of it. The standard of finish was incredible. I remember coming out of college with a really rough folio, but nowadays the standard is very high, with actual printed work etc. It was really good to see people using the print departments at their colleges: lots of good letter-press and screen-printed work. I also had some interesting conversations with students, lots of positive energy. I wouldn’t like to be a student graduating now, the amount of people coming out every year, all fighting for the same jobs, you really have to be special, and you have to be hard-working. By the end of the night we had our list of about 20 people. When we got home at about 23:00 we spread them all out on the front-room floor and over burnt pizza we whittled it down to 10 [5 “winners” & 5 “runner-ups”], it took us a few hours. Felt absolutely knackered, it was an evening of sensory overload.

Music: Brian Eno – Ambient 1 Music for Airports.
Faber&Faber typeface project.
Quick Brain-Fart idea done for Creative Review cover.
Patrick [CR] asks us to get the 10 Young Bloods down to 5, which was quite tough.
Design Museum Shop colour palette tweaks, address type concerns. The first stage of this project is the logo design/direction, which has taken a little longer to get signed off than usual. We are working with Simon (Armstrong, head of retail at DM) on the project who we first met when he was up in Manchester at Magma where he asked us to do a mini-exhibition in the shop. Now that the logo has been signed off we handed it over to Design Junction [the web designers], they will apply it to the website design and then it’s a backwards and forwards process between us & them. I’m really pleased with the logo that has been signed off [just before Simon went away on holiday!], it’s very different from the other DM identity work. Looking forward to working with them on possible print applications.
Meeting with Laura re work. I feel we aren’t giving her a huge amount of feedback on the work she is doing, which is difficult due to our workloads. It’s a great learning experience for us as much as her, as we have not been able to offer placements before and have only been able to give it proper consideration since working from the studio. It’s strange having someone else in the studio… I’ve always been left to my own devices where work has been concerned, I don’t think I’ve had one moment in terms of work where I haven’t had something to do, some piece of work to finish. I ß honestly can’t remember the last time [since starting Build] that I stared into space, thinking of nothing, so I assume others work the same way and if they don’t say something then I let them get on with it.

Leave: 18:37.
Work from home on Faber&Faber [print on demand project]. Sketching letter-forms, I find this quite therapeutic. I’m definitely not a typographer, but I really enjoy type, I think it’s fundamental to a designer’s skill-set.
The Joy of Type™ 🙂
Finish: 23.30.

Music: Modern Institute – Excellent Swimmer.
(accompanied by the bin-men).
More Faber&Faber type sketches, then start to work them up on the Mac.
Takes all day. The font is starting to take shape, the whole project is going to be amazing. I’ve worked with [Faber client] Darren Wall before when he commissioned us to do a poetry book cover. We get on really well, he’s very positive and we feed off each other’s enthusiasm. When the client is enthusiastic it’s brilliant. We did some work about a year ago for a company where we would go to meetings to present work and the client was so flat, no enthusiasm, no smiles, no clues and we found it really hard.
Leave: 22:59.

Stanstead Express to Stanstead Airport.
Stanstead to Dublin for SweetTalk 24 – Wim Crouwel/Gary Hustwit + Helvetica [a documentary film] the Irish Premiere/Q+A.
First day back on the drink after a month off, I can definitely recommend Mulligans on Poolbeg Street for a beautiful pint of Guinness (apparently the best pint in Dublin).
We’ve been over to Dublin before to do a SweetTalk, and then I was invited by them to do another in NYC on St. Patrick’s day this year, so when Richard Seabrooke asked us over for this we said yes. Richard is an incredibly motivated person & very enthusiastic designer who puts on all the SweetTalk events as well as running /publishing the online magazine Candy. He is a human dynamo; when you are around him you can’t help but feel completely enthused, & it’s really refreshing to have people like Richard in our industry, which can sometimes be really insular, and, at times, negative.

When I was asked to do this “Month in a life…” thing by CR, I wasn’t going to do it: I was busy, I thought people would find it arrogant. I asked Nicky and a few friends what they thought and all said “go for it”, so I said yes. CR posted up a piece on their blog and in came the negative comments, before anyone had a chance to see the finished thing. It’s an experiment, it might be great, it might be crap, but I’ll always give something a go.

People like Richard & Aidan Kelly [KellyTours™- who works with Richard to organise, promote and host the SweetTalk events] just do something positive, have fun and share it with everyone else. It’s really easy to be negative, not so easy to be like them.

On to the evening’s event – SweetTalk24 at The Sugar Club. The venue was packed out, extra seats had to be put in, with queues down the street (in the pouring rain).
An hour with Wim Crouwel. From his beginnings at art school (the first Modernist building in Holland) to his work for the Stedelijk Museum to his typefaces to being the director at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (working with 8vo). I came relatively late to his work: whilst at tDR, Ian brought back a book of his work, the now very hard to get hold of Mode en Module. I was completely blown away by it. Ian then got us all a copy (which I took along to Dublin and had signed by Wim). Now here is a man who after 30+ years at the forefont of his profession still remains completely enthused and positive and not remotely jaded – his motto apparently; “always embrace new things and never be grumpy”.
After his talk we arranged to meet the following morning at 09:00 at his hotel for a chat/conversation.

Helvetica [A Documentary Film] – introduced by Gary Hustwit (the director). I’d been to a preview of the film at MoMA whilst in NYC. I’m so glad that Gary had been persistent, because when I was initially asked to be filmed for it I said no. We had just moved and the flat was a mess, boxes everywhere (see the film for the evidence!). The film is so well shot, the interviews are really good and for the most part really funny (especially [Pentagram designer] Michael Bierut’s “Coke. Period. The Real Thing. Period.” rant). It works on all levels, and went down really well in Dublin. Go see it. After the film there was a half hour Q+A with Gary Hustwit, Wim Crouwel, Aiden Grennelle, Alistair Keady & myself, chaired by Claran O’Gaora, which was good fun.
That finished at 12:00, then we all (minus Wim) went out to a bar until the small hours.

Ik hou van Dublin. Ik hou van Helvetica.

Bed: 03:45 [approx].

Wim & I, a conversation with Wim Crouwel.
Hungover, pack quickly, check out of the hotel, walk to the Shelbourne, sit down in a very grand room, order coffee, start to get nervous, think of questions to ask him. Wim suggested 09:00 so we got there 10 minutes early. It gets to 09:20, wonder what is going on, check with concierge, ask to speak to their guest Mr. Crouwel. “Sorry sir, we don’t have a guest by the name Crouwel”… Panic! Phone Richard, Wim is at the Clarence, NOT the Shelbourne! Dash out of the lobby, jump in a cab, arrive at the right hotel. In the downstairs room sits Wim Crouwel, reading his newspaper. We apologise, and apologise again. He graciously accepts our apologies and we start chatting. He’s very engaging, and is easy to have a conversation with;  we manage a half hour, but then have to leave to catch our flight home. (For a transcript see www.creativereview.co.uk/crblog)

Music: Woob – 1194.
Label design for Simple Sounds. As part of the design I wanted to keep the CD booklet really clean with minimal information, the photography being the main focus. To achieve this I put all the production credits, thank yous etc. on the CD labels. It’s quite fiddly to do, but I think the end result is worth it. I find dealing with big chunks of information in a small space really interesting and challenging.
Leave 15:20.
Nicky leaves at 02:30 after filing the VAT return.

Music: Bocca Juniors – Raise.
Write up notes from the past few days, make some small amends to the F&F font, work on some type changes on the 50 poster. After a bit of internet research I manage to find the address of the former Haas Foundry (the birthplace of Helvetica), and using Googlemaps™ find it on a satellite map, and find its longitude and latitude co-ordinates for the Helvetica poster. Using this information I construct the poster. The print will be very sexy – quite a challenge for Paul at Generation Press, but he’s usually up for that kind of thing. It’s great to have found a printer we can trust.
Leave 20:09.

Recieved: 503.
Sent: 165.
Junk: 31.

Week 4.

Music: Heights of Abraham – Electric Hush.
Planning meeting with Nicky to organise what we have on and who gets what first. We have been nominated by Brett Phillips at 3 Deep Design in Australia for inclusion in a book that he is guest-curating a section of (one of 10 I think). It’s nice to be recognised by your peers, especially by one whose work you greatly admire. So I spent the morning compiling images for that, and uploading those to the server.
Feedback from Richard & Blam re the 50 exhibition poster. They are not keen on the main big text/message. Need to work in the title of Helvetica 50 and whatever I try just doesn’t seem to work – this is one poster that should be really simple, but just isn’t for some reason.
Leave: 22:11.

Music: Jamie T – Alicia Keys.
08:06 train from Victoria to Burgess Hill to visit Generation Press HQ in Poynings. Over breakfast (me: Full English, no tomato, Paul: Full English w/sauteed potatoes, two teas, well Patrick said he wanted me to record everything…) we talk about the Helvetica 50 job we are doing where Paul has run some tests of foil on GF Smith Transclear stock. Not great. We then head over to do some screen-printing tests on the Generation Press rebrand that we are in the middle of working on with them, where we are really testing the limits [or trying to] of what can be done with print. Today we are looking at a screen-print using blended colours which, in itself, isn’t a new technique, but can be a little hit and miss. The poster has already been litho printed and now needs to be printed with the colour-faded screen-print.

We start the tests with 4 different-coloured inks and these take quite a few prints before the colours blend nicely; so we decide to switch to 3. This proves to work really well and we get a lot more “good” prints before the colours work their way out to the edge and the fade effect is lost. Then we test just 2 colours; this is one of the reasons I love being on press, it enables the designer and printer to have a dialogue that ultimately both get a better job from. In this case I’m sure if we hadn’t been there John (the screen-printer) would have struggled to know what we wanted to achieve as it was real trial and error, but in the end we got some lovely results. We discuss another poster also due to be screen-printed: it has been litho’d already [10 PMS colours], then it will be screened, then foil-blocked. Once we feel we have the 200 good prints from today we head off to check on another ß part of the same job (and get an impromptu lesson in foil-blocking from Paul). After 17 years in the industry I’m still learning. I’ve always been a practical person so I enjoy mucking in at printers and the like.

Get the 16:26 train back to meet up and with Luca (Refill Magazine) who is over from Australia, and show him the sights of E17.

Music: Pole – R.
Helvetica 50 poster is driving me nuts. Get label copy for the new/old Sun Electric album and, after a chat with [the band’s] Tom Thiel I start writing ideas down for the cover. All artwork copy checked for Simple Sounds, prepare files for uploading. Will at Simple wants to add a “featuring…” sticker onto the actual cover rather than having a sticker that people can take off once bought. We manage to talk him round. The sticker used to be the scourge of the sleeve designer  (HMV for instance sticker all CDs top right, so we were sometimes told to not put type within that area). Now I think it’s often “the thumbnail view” that dictates the design – we were due to design a book for a big UK publisher where it was stated that in the initial meeting that “type on the cover must be big enough to be readable when viewed on the net”…

Leave at 12:30 to pick up a couple of shirts (near Old Street) which we got printed for the Creative Review cover shoot- then head up to Jason Tozer’s photography studio. Set up the shot, Patrick (CR’s editor) comes down to check the shoot. We worked recently with Jason on a job for D&AD: he’s really good – and a good laugh. We try different set ups, different lighting etc. Within about an hour and a half we have a couple of shots we are all happy with, now the only choice is happy MCP, or miserable Northerner MCP. Get a cab back into town with Patrick we chat about CR and my old company, The Designers Republic.

Cheeky pint of Guinness at the Toucan Bar, Soho Square, then meet up with Nicky and go to meet Darren from Faber & Faber. Find a coffee shop and go over refinements of the font and sort out a schedule for getting the font produced.
Meet up with Laura our student placement and go to the If You Could… exhibition launch at the Exposure Gallery, organised by Will Hudson & Alex Bec. There are some lovely pieces there and it’s very busy. Meet a few people there, among them George Hardie who I met earlier in the year when I was judging the Howard Smith print awards. George is a complete legend, who for my sins I had never heard of until I was enlightened by Mr. Farrow. If you haven’t heard of him I would suggest you look him up. He’s another person who has done so much amazing work yet is really approachable and very humble, a very nice interesting man.
Next we head to the Elms Lester Painting Rooms with Luca for the Futura 2000 and Jose Parla private view of Pirate Utopias. A very different mood from the If You Could… show: definitely a case of “If I could…” I would have chosen a different pair of trainers! Lots of very “cool” people paying more attention to your shoes than the pictures on the wall. We met Jose Parla, and were also introduced to [graffiti artist] Mode 2. By the time we got there all the pieces had been sold, not that we could afford any of them! We had some lovely cocktails and admired the art on the walls and the unusual setting. The Elms Lester Painting Rooms is a beautiful building, where set painters would paint backdrops for the West End shows. It has super open triple-story height rooms built to accommodate the enormous canvases.

Back across town to Get Involved at The Social, chatted to Gavin (CR staff writer + Get Involved DJ/organiser), queued for ages to get a drink then headed home.

Music: The Knife – Na Na Na.
Design the Helvetica 50 Design Museum invites, get them approved and off to Generation Press. Try and sort out the Helvetica 50 poster. Go through some of the work that Laura has been set; she’s really improved, especially type skills.

Conference call with Marc & Tommi about our new website, last minute tweaks need to be discussed. The new site is beautiful, and functions really well. We are now just down to very minor tweaks.

We leave early to go to a bar to have a bit of a de-brief with Laura about her time with us.

Leave: 18:01.

Music: Depthcharge – Depth Charge.
Colour correct images for CR + upload to server.
Helvetica 50 poster: I think it’s done… finally! It definitely got to be a case of “can’t see the wood for the trees”. I’d looked at it so much that I lost sight of if it was any good anymore. I’m fairly pleased with it, and the print should really make it special. Send it to Blam [www.blanka.co.uk] & Richard.
Leave: 14:33.

Day off! Mowed the lawn, watched Antiques Roadshow, ß Nicky writes up the Wim Crouwel interview for the CR Blog.

Music: Beastie Boys – Pauls Boutique.
The front side of the 50 poster has been approved, so I work up the “letter-press” reverse side, tidy up a few bits, add a few bits of detail and send to Generation Press.

Meeting with Patrick (CR) at the studio, go over the spreads, re-organise some of the work, give additional information about the projects. Go through a few ideas for the cover.

Discussion with Paul/GP about the print spec for the 50 poster. We originally intended the poster to be printed in metallic grey (both sides) and have a gold foil-blocked cross, but after numerous tests and conversations with specialist foiling companies the consensus is a resounding no on both the metallic and foil. We chose Transclear (semi transparent stock) to try and get across the idea of the old and the newer techniques on the poster; you’ll be able to see how letterpress was set and composed in a galley from the front. Because foil-blocking is a pressure & heat process, & the area of foiling would be large-ish, the combination with the litho print might cause the stock to buckle. So while maybe there is a compromise involved I was happy that Paul had exhausted all avenues before we went for the straight litho option. Organise the print for the limited edition version.
Design other bits and bobs for the exhibition print.
Start drawing up some ideas for the new Sun Electric cover.
Leave: 22:41.

Music: Burial – Burial.
Make notes on amends for new website using GoogleDocs.
Nicky has a meeting with Channel 5.
Megan Simpkins from GF Smith comes in to show us new samples. I particularly like Crane’s Crest, a stock made from cotton. As part of our rebrand for Generation Press we are thinking of getting our own colour stock made, also thinking about a custom watermark.
Do some amends on the Faber & Faber type job.
Leave: 19:30.
Go to the pub quiz at the Village.

Music: Sun Electric – Lost&Found.
Catch up on emails. Do a photography test for Sun Electric cover. Go through a load of paper samples looking for possible stocks for our new stationery. Writing down some ideas for a new series of prints. Make more notes on corrections for our site. Do some additional icons for the Design Museum Shop site. Start work on the Helvetica 50 overview poster and signage.Upload the last set of portraits for the CR piece. Do two labels for AUS & Simple records.
Start outlining a talk I’m due to do in L.A.
Leave: 18:30.
Looking forward to a shave and a haircut.

Recieved: 720.
Sent: 258.
Junk: 41.



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