A Maki rolls mountain.
One in a series. Roughly once a month, jobs allowing, we have lunch on a Friday, teaching ourselves some new dish, some new cuisine. After Darren's successful Yo Sushi course in how to roll maki, he taught us. Washed down with warm sake.
Fresh salmon ready to be sliced.
A lonely salmon nigiri.
Rolling the maki.
Maki and nigiri feast!
Sea weed crisps.
戴きます (*Itadakimasu) = Enjoy the meal.
Empty working stations.
According to Reuters, in the autumn of 2014, the Scottish will hold a vote on independence, which could herald the break-up of Britain. The vote is timed to be on the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn a famous victory of the independent Scots against the invading English.
If the vote for independence is successful, we will no longer be a United Kingdom - since the two kingdoms - Scotland and England are both kingdoms - will be disunited. The worst aspect of this is that we can no longer legally be known as the United Kingdom, so if there is no immediate back-up idea, just like the Former Yugoslavia, we will become the Former United Kingdom. Or fUK.
Whilst you are absorbing that...
The flag of the UK, created in 1707, to symbolise the "United Kingdom of Great Britain" will have to go.
The Union Jack, as the flag is colloquially known, is an amalgam of the flags of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the sequence we show here: Scotland's saltire of St Andrew, England's cross of St George, and Northern Ireland's saltire of St Patrick. Wales ... simply doesn't exist. The two saltires have been made thinner so they don't cancel one another out, hence all that geometric complexity.
Although David Cameron calls the UK "countries within a country" the countries are not equal. England is a kingdom, Wales is a Principality, with Prince Charles as its Prince, and Northern Ireland is described variously as a "province" and a "territory". Somehow Wales fails to appear in any form on the flag, Ireland gets thinned out, and Scotland trumped by the big red cross of St George. Back in 1707, the other kingdom, Scotland was profoundly unhappy, and produced their own design with the white saltire dominant, which they cleverly wanted to use north of the border.
This issue of dominance is an old issue, it's interesting to look at the sketches of the Earl of Nottingham, four hundred year old design ideas, trying to reconcile two crosses (always with the red dominant), dating as early as 1604, a hundred years before the Union Jack, when James I first wanted to unite Scotland and England.
There is another interesting effort of amalgamation, dating from 1653, when Britain had no King. Much like France, which needed a new flag when it rid itself of King Louis XVI in 1793, Oliver Cromwell wanted the Commonwealth to have a new start. (That wonderful word Commonwealth, with its prototypical egalitarian implications, dates from this time.) The lion in the centre is Oliver Cromwell's own coat of arms ... he went on to act almost as a king, even being succeeded his son Richard Cromwell, who by all accounts was not what his father was, and fell from power, being known ever after as "Tumble-down Dick".
At last the point of this post: a piece of thinking about what the design of the new flag replacing the Union Jack could be.
We aren't the first. There is some background and some ideas on The Guardian site. And if your interest is really peeked, googling will reveal more. (But I doubt anyone has been as thorough as us.)
Before we begin, as is my want, a diversion.
If it seems ambitious to think about the flag for, using David Cameron's surprisingly clever phrase, "countries within a country" - that is nothing compared to designing a flag for the whole world!
This is the task that the magazine Adbusters set a few years ago. 2008 I think? You can read about the competition here. I have an ambivalent attitude to Adbusters, I find it paradoxical to be anti branding and anti commercial whilst building a brand and making money ... But I love challenges, and wanted to think about a flag to represent the entire world. One thing I found very strange, especially for an anti-establishment we know better right-on crew, was that every single one of the seven judges for this new emblem for the whole of humanity was male, and white.
About as establishment (and by that we mean racist and misogynistic, don't we?) as it is possible to be. Even Vogue would have noticed how skewed and unrepresentative that was. I wasn't the only one to notice, and Adbusters reshuffled the jury to include some members of inferior ethnicities and sexes. Anyway. My two flag designs are below. (You can google the winner that the Not All White Not All Male Jury chose here, but good luck, I couldn't find it, any link I followed to Adbusters met with "access denied". It was sky I think. Clever.)
Citizens of the World
Sharing One World
We have, in reverse order of popularity here in the studio, five potential designs for the fUK.
Design one: Three countries in one
The simplest - and least imaginative - solution to Scotland disuniting, is simply to lift the saltire of St Andrew out of the flag. So just two red crosses. Quite nice. But wait, where is Wales? Where was Wales in the Union Jack? Why didn't they have an alternative version of the Union Jack that they presented to Queen Anne in 1707?
Our first design uses the cross of St George, and adds emblems from the flags of Northern Ireland and Wales. (The Red Hand of Ulster [dates back into the mists of time] and the Red Dragon of Wales [dates back to at least 800AD].) The great advantage of this flag is that for the first time, it represents the actual number of countries. Three. Wales gets a showing.
Three countries within a country
Design two: Joining Napoleon's Europe
As he conquered countries, Napoleon replaced their "old" flags with the new tricolore. Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy... I imagine he had a plan to reflag all of Europe. Several countries in Europe have subsequently adopted a tricolore.
Napoleon didn't design the tricolore, though. He just brought it unequivocal prominence as France's only flag. Who did design it is vague.
Somehow a whole crop of countries have gone for the horizontal tricolore. Starting with the Netherlands. Perhaps its a Protestant or Teutonic thing. (And those countries under Teutonic influence.) Loving the modernity, the simplicity, but not wanting to pay any acknowledgement to Catholic France.
For the purposes of our messianic redesign project, we have brought these horizontal deviants into the vertical fold.
So, proposal two is: do what works. We have the logical internationally agreed units of measurement, the metre, the kilogram, we comply in all significant areas with shipping and flight paths, currency valuations, contract terminology, interlocking legal codes, lets add one more area of interconnectedness: our flag.
There is also the neatness that the tricolore is three bands of colour, one for each of the fUK's three countries.
Three countries, three colours: red for England, green for Wales, red for Northern Ireland
Design three: Three lions
The three lions has been an emblem for England for a thousand years. It began in France. (Don't tell the Daily Mail.) In the deep middle ages, a set of lions was the heraldic symbol for the Counts of Anjou - the numbers of lions varied, sometimes four, sometimes six, probably according to what they were displayed on, more space, more lions. Here is an image of Geoffrey Plantagenet, who married King Henry of England's daughter, Matilda. Through convolutions too lengthy to ever remember, his son became Henry II, King of England and the Plantagenet family with their crest of lions came to rule England (and Wales) and some of the time Scotland for three hundred years.
It is already used as the "royal banner of England".
Our proposal is the the flag come to represent the fUK. The Irish and Welsh are (presumably) happy to be known as the British Lions when it comes to rugby - the Lions is the team with players from each of the countries within Great Britain. Could they be happy to be one of the metaphorical lions on a new flag? We think this solution particularly suits British pugnacity - our willingness to fight with anyone, anywhere. Drunk or sober.
Design four: The white cliffs of Dover
The white cliffs of Dover were used in their campaign for the recent European elections by the maverick political party UKIP, as a symbol of all that is most precious to our "country".
(There are exactly matching white cliffs of Normandy too. No one plonked in front of them could tell them apart, they are made of the same chalk.)
Our fourth design is a flag based on the white cliffs - the bit of Britain that faces out towards the 'rest of the world'.
This version was chosen by the designer here in the studio who drew it, Kevin, who is French, because it looks like Britain seen from France.
Design five: Rose Rising
A word on flags, countries, and history. I think you ignore history at your peril. People need to feel that their flag represents something communal that they can (literally) look up to. Something that represents an essence of the history and relationships that they share with their fellow countrymen, something that can be shared even with their ancestors. Something that has been dug out of the shared nationality like the most concentrated diamond.
Not something that has just sprung from an artist's or designer's capricious imagination, and can only be understood in terms of that individual. Flags are about what is common. In the wonderful word of Oliver Cromwell's era: the Commonwealth.
Even a very modern flag design like the tricolore, which is so reductive and timeless it is simply three colours, is explained with reference to what the colours represent, deep strains of French culture.
If the Tudor Rose is unfamiliar to you, read here. Its been a potent symbol of Britain for five hundred years. Long enough for its association with one particular family to be forgotten. What most people fail to realise is that it is actually two roses combined, a white fused with a red. It is a symbol of unity. Of two opposing sides, being at peace and united.
We love the fact that the symbol seems to cover so many aspects of the fUK.
- unity: people of opposing views happily living alongside one another
- the fruitfulness of the British Isles: the verdance, the countryside, the gardens
- did we mention gardens: Britain's favourite activity
- the meandering, wiggly, organic paths that human lives and human interaction takes
- different petals, but one shared heart
- the cycle of life: constant renewal
We think this says so much more than something so reductive like the tricolore, which can only be about the association of colours. (Kevin agrees.) With the rose we get colours, and we get symbolism that works for the past, and the future. Whether it is rendered with more drawing and more detail, or flat and graphically, we aren't sure. Beautiful, memorable, unique in the world of flags.
It makes us feel slightly better about living in the fUK.
et Kevin Denoual
Another two weeks in the wilds of Myanmar - known to Google maps by its 40 year old colonial name: Burma. My camera unerringly points at children, as if it had a will of its own. Probably because I miss my own daughter, Lily, so incredibly much. For me, at some instinctual level, they are surrogates for her.
Massimo Vignelli, image borrowed from lafondazioneny.org/remembering-massimo-vignelli.
Another great designer has left us. Massimo Vignelli died, aged 83, on 27 May 2014.
Massimo, as his first name suggests, was big. And in these musings here I try to get at why.
I wrote this brief passage below to convince the board and executives at D&AD that Massimo, and his wife and design partner Lella - were worthy of flying over to be the headline lecture at the D&AD Congress of 2000-and-something. 2005 I think.
(I know what you are thinking ... "Congress? As in sexual congress? As in Trade Union Congress?" Yes. As with most things at D&AD it seemed like a good idea to someone, to inflate the awards ceremony and the student awards into a quasi-conference, and give it a funny name. It stuck for a short while until someone fresh came along and thought of another idea.)
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MASSIMO VIGNELLI
Its hard to describe Massimo, largely because Britain has no-one even remotely like him. He is essentially a graphic designer, but then alongside his wife Lella, he has spent a 50-year career designing almost everything there is to design.
One-time assistant Michael Bierut put it like this: "You could fly into New York on American Airlines, find your way on the New York City subway, shop at Bloomingdale's, dine at Palio, and even worship at St. Peter's Church and never be out of touch with a Vignelli-designed logo, signage system, shopping bag, table setting or pipe organ." And then, Michael could have added, you could go home, pull up a Vignelli-designed handkerchief chair to a Vignelli-designed table and eat dinner on Vignelli-designed plates with Vignelli cutlery whilst candles guttered in Vignelli-designed candle sticks.
His list of awards and accomplishments, honorary professorships and medals would take an entire evening to recite. Alan Fletcher's nickname for him was Mister New York - so ubiquitous are his designs in that city. Logos everywhere, sign systems, including Citicorp a prototype of most city-wide pedestrian sign schemes, building identities such as the Guggenheim museums, the literature of all national parks in the city and the state. (These peans by New York designers make the point far more convincingly than I can, they lived and breathed the effects of his work.)
In the first ever full-length talk he has ever given in Britain, Massimo and Lella will tell us stories about some of the world's most universally admired design work, and the meaning of the phrase "design is one". And does he agree with what one critic said: "In many ways, the Vignellis are considered to have given graphic design its stature in contemporary society."
What I wrote must have worked, because they came, the Vignellis, and over an all-too-short evening amazed us with their confidence, fluency between disciplines, consistency over decades, iron-clad resistance to fashion, all carried out with a highly restricted palette of shapes, colours and typefaces.
This film by them captures some of their abundance of glamour and character.
I tried to capture what struck me in a piece for EYE magazine. (Sorry if it irritates you that I repeat certain ideas. Think of my metaphors like Vignelli's endless re-use of the square.)
There is no one in my generation remotely close to Vignelli, who bears comparison with the greats. And if it's too early to make that call in mid-career, then I will say that there is no one who even remotely looks like becoming a designer of Vignelli's stature. A colossus. A giant to compare with giants like Herbert Bayer or Eric Gill.
What is it that gives him that scale?
He seemed to be perfectly at ease with clients of every sort. Publishers, he designed hundreds of books. Charities, he designed countless identity and literature schemes. Big national bodies and multinational businesses, from the National Parks to Bennetton. His projects ran up and down the design gamut, from two colour flyers to nation-wide systems. And spanned every tone; promotional, high seriousness, chatty, grand. Very, very few designers get to meet this sheer range of challenges.
He designed everything, literally, anything you can name; from sofas to suits, offices to wine bottles, jewellery to typefaces, magazines to train liveries. There wasn't anything he didn't get his hands round. This takes him into the realm of William Morris and the designers at the Bauhaus, and elastic architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Rennie Mackintosh - the designers of whole worlds. Making a world as you think it should be. Being a designer capable of designing a building and a door handle, and the clothes of everyone in it. Which of us does this? Marc Newson, maybe. Philippe Starck, maybe. But the next point shows how far Vignelli is above them.
His morality was a substantial part of how he thought about design ... but what exactly does that mean? He lived well. I remember visiting his studio in about 1998, at the top of a New York skyscraper. It was like a film set, all grey tiles, roof lights, doors flush with the walls, all assistants hidden behind high booths. Vignelli greeted us in a collarless black suit, and white hair, like God. I have no idea what his relationship was to those less fortunate than he: but from the amount of charity work he did, how he treated young upcoming designers (he was hugely lavish with his time and advice to me and John Powner, two young design worms whom he could have simply ignored), he met more than his fair share of obligations of all kinds to educational and pro-bono bodies, I suspect he was personally generous. His morality showed itself most in what he believed design should be doing - making the world better, clearer, less wasteful, efficient, clean, stripped down and (in his eyes) more lovely. And the purpose of this was that better design gave people a better experience. Understand a map faster, read a book more fully, enjoy a meal more with more thoughtful crockery. His thinking was: for design to last, it has to transcend its time, it needs to use eternal forms, simple and pure geometry, a red that is not salmon or maroon or almost an orange, clearly a red, a red red, a red that will be red for ever more.
This is only my unresearched opinion, but Philippe Starck (who designs products, furniture, interiors, architecture, but has to my knowledge has never strayed into the graphic design world) seems happy to use eccentric, personal, striking forms for his work, with little concern whether or not it might 'last' in the way that Vignelli worried about. Starck loots French history, reaches out for antlers and horns, seeks inspiration in the insect world, adds Post-Modern bits and bobs, designs hotels reputedly by scribbling hundreds of sketches with a fat pencil and faxing them to lesser designers to create a final design from. (Instead of "final", I was going to use the word coherent, but that is the last word to describe any Starck interior. Walking into a Starck bar or café is like walking into a thrown-open scrap book.) There is a black building in Tokyo designed by Starck, the headquarters of a beer company, with tapering sides, and to top it off, like a maraschino cherry, there is a puffy golden flame emanating from the roof. (Why? The local residents have had their revenge, it is known locally as the Poo Building.)
Vignelli had a missionary zeal, a purifying morality that stretches out across the whole of society, and that urge for things to be better - purer, simpler, reduced, clearer - underpins and invests his work in a clear way. I have no real sense of what Philippe Starck wants the world to be. (His, maybe?) Starck's is a wilder, more playful imagination, a free-wheeling, eclectic, historical mish-mashing puckishness. A world populated with golden poo. Starck may have the morals of an Amish, but I don't read them in his work.
He is called "leftist", but I don't think Vignelli was a Socialist, a thing that it is getting harder to believe ever really existed. I don't think he believed in a grand plan coming inevitably into being - the rise of a newly liberated working class the world over, a class free of all the evils of the past, free of colonial impulses, free of the desire to oppress or collect capital... to paraphrase Karl Marx: history will come to an end, and mankind will be reborn in a better form. (An awful lot of apparently intelligent people did believe this. Like the Bauhaus founders.) I think Vignelli was a non-doctrinaire instinctive follower of Utilitarianism. This blog post is already long, and I am straying into territory that threatens to make it far longer, so put as succinctly as I can: Utilitarianism might be described as a belief that what works is good.
Wanting design to be good, because good design elevates whatever it is used to assist; reading, travelling, eating, praying. Most modern designers want fame, and money, much more than they want to elevate other people's lives. They strive for originality, to do something that will make them stand out. Massimo was busy his whole career doing less. Happy with a handful of colours, four typefaces, some very fat rules, a square and a circle. These humble ingredients got reused hundreds of times to stunning effect. Showing us that originality is one thing, but utility is another, better thing.
Dear Massimo, Deyan Sudjic in his obituary said you gave America "a modern look". I doubt we'll see your like for a long time. I imagine you in Heaven, frowning at the elaborate harps.
You can easily google Vignelli's work. But this set of guidelines is rare. A magnificent example of genericisation. Or, using Vignelli's word from the brochure: prototypicification. In it he imagines two charities and every piece of communication they would ever need. One proud of its past, the other looking forwards. It shows Vignelli's design thinking in its fullest form; how the grids work, those ubiquitous fat rules, the restricted typefaces, the geometry. Even the very idea of creating generic templates, a generic identity is typical of Vignelli's urge to extend his simplifying reach beyond the organisations that he could actually design himself. As much of the world as possible should look good.
Popped round to pick our new cards from Phil Abel, master printer at Hand & Eye. His railway arch workshop is a Wonderland of objects bound to thrill any designer. Towers of ink pots, sets of type trays, type casters, partially printed sheets, wood type, just writing this list my chest is hammering and I am becoming breathless.
The great fact that makes all this super-exciting is that this is not a museum, Phil is a jobbing printer, working day-in, day-out producing real work with this equipment, even the casters function. Let me be clear about what I mean by the word "jobbing". I mean that each task that you undertake is a job, brought to you by a client. John McConnell, partner of Pentagram, wrote a piece in "Living by Design" (Whitney Library of Design 1978), in which he described that making the most of each client's job a dignified, indeed noble way of practicing design. The struggle for anyone working for clients, McConnell suggests is "how to reconcile their concept of aesthetic quality with commercial pressures". He cited Josef Müller-Brockmann as a jobbing designer who had brought magic to each project. Phil, in his railway atelier, does the same.
To be a letterpress printer in this day and age is a double or even treble achievement. First: its hard to be a small-scale printer, focused on quality. Second: there are time, quantity and design constraints which you have to allow for in this form of printing. Thirdly: Phil is working with equipment that is no longer "supported" as the manufacturers say. He has to fix it himself. The Monotype caster has been jerry-rigged to run off a MacBook in the most ingenious way, breathing fresh modern life into these old machines.
You can see lovely films of Phil's equipment in action (!): the Monotype Supercaster here, and Heidelberg cylinder press here.
Phil in inky apron, chats with John Powner.
Heidelberg Cylinder Press, with grippers like long metal fingers, handling the sheets of card.
Display fonts. The Supercaster only goes up to 14 point, anything above has to be set by hand. This looks like Gill.
Phil's collection of galleys, the strips of set type bound in a form. Some of this type has lain here for twenty years (that is when Phil printed our first letterhead).
Dissed type, ready to be returned to the melting pot. Amongst American typesetters, this is known as the Hellbox.
On the right is the composing stone, where type is assembled, ensuring it is level.
Phil's MacBook Air joined ingeniously to the Monotype Supercaster. Which means he can set type automatically from modern text documents.
This exotic collection of tubes, like early Dr Who equipment, translates the binary code of the digital letterforms from Phil's MacBook into pnuematic pulses (puff of air down those transparent tubes) that drive the Monotype Supercaster. It looks crude, but is a perfect example of the kind of innovation needed to keep machinery developed in the 1920s functional nearly a hundred years later. Like Erik Spiekermann says in the film promoting his new printing workshop, "these machines never break". They don't break, but innovation is needed to keep them relevant.
The Monotype Supercaster, with overalls artfully draped on it.
Phil pointing at a display matrix, the matrix determines what font the Supercaster casts.
Boxes from the Monotype Display Matrix Lending Library. A service that has been running since 1913. The hire is 15/- (fifteen shillings) a week, 75p.
Close up of the Supercaster. Watch this brief film to see it functioning.
Phil has proofed up some woodcuts he inherited, including this beautiful image of a stretcher party (SP on their helmets) bringing an injured civilian, wearing a gas mask, out of a house after German bombing. The lines are fine as hairs. Both skill and bravery that belong to another era.