Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

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Freeloading limit

25 March, 2009

As far as predictions go, this is likely to be the beginning of a series of features on the sustainability of various net-based business models experiencing the expository glory of the Web 2.0 surge over the last few years. And conveniently helping to kick-start this debate, revolutionary social music network Last.fm very briefly announced on the Last.HQ blog yesterday that they are to begin charging a non-optional subscription rate (should you choose to continue using the service) to users living outside the United Kingdom, United States and Germany. This €3.00-a-month decision is suggested to come as a result of the international licensing fees that have restricted the likes of Pandora from fully tapping into markets beyond their conventional core user-base back in 2007. Understandably, this creates a veritable dilemma once considering how it is precisely the regions beyond the UK, US and Germany in which such multimedia platforms have been seeing unbridled interest, use and support amongst a diverse forum of users and music listeners as they become increasingly connected and integrated with one another through technology and word-of-mouth. Of course this wouldn’t be the first instance of a move towards charging a premium for content, seeing as online news publications and Google (TBC) are already foraying into a world where free content is yielding to the need to compensate for falling advertising revenue in face of the economic downturn.

But before I grind my axe about YouTube and others, it is important to highlight the fact that the current state of free content simply cannot be sustained forever if one is to also expect product innovation, service differentiation and the expansion of  services offered online. I have written numerous times about Last.fm, very much in praise of what it has done to shape the media landscape in terms of enriching the music listener’s experience whilst facilitating interaction with enthusiastic and perhaps like-minded individuals on an international scale unparalleled despite the recent flood of new music-oriented web platforms. Slightly less obviously so, it has additionally helped to cultivate one’s passion for a variety of musical stylings that may have ordinarily taken a lifetime to explore, furthermore helping to dispel the notions of bad science linking music to the twisted world of profit-based corporate initiatives and targeted advertising (although when examining the nature of the press release, that latter point can easily be disputed). It is for these reasons and many others that the current model would undeniably need to be modified to sustain the company after the CBS acquisition and, sadly, the subsequent laying-off of staff here in East London this past December.

Now Last.fm states that the ‘business decision’ was needed ‘in order to keep providing the best radio service on the web’ and ‘support all the other free services’, promising to provide ‘unlimited access’ alongside improvements ‘for years to come’. One should emphasize, however, that user communications support, scrobbling, charts, recommendations, the events calendar, etc., will remain free for access worldwide. They optimistically state that there will also be a ’30 track free trial, and we hope this will convince people to subscribe and keep listening to the radio’. But despite that all seeming to be in the user’s best interest, the expected backlash will perhaps supersede that which took place following the major interface overhaul last summer. The flood of comments and forum dialogue already provides a fair amount of indication of such, with statements ranging between a series of disapproving expletives and those highlighting the increased attractiveness of alternatives such as Grooveshark, Deezer, RadioVeRVe and Spotify (especially in France). People have also enquired about the precise geographic determinants of the charge (IP address, postal address, nationality?), whilst expressing that the service should either be free for all or free for none.

It is that final note that directs attention to the notion of freeloading and the future of content consumption in a world where not only licensing varies extensively, but also purchasing power parity of currency differs between countries in a manner which makes a move such as Last.fm’s seem highly discriminatory. And it may be the case that the lack of consistent pricing across the board in member countries may prove to be at odds with EU law. But there does seem to be a general view that loyal users who may already be subscribed will go unaffected regardless of location; meanwhile, freeloaders will switch to the alternatives mentioned above, therefore increasing the cost of competition throughout the entire marketplace for everyone (including the competitors). In theory, Last.fm can take this risk now, especially if there is concern as regards to how the recent spike in the popularity of Spotify’s free on-demand service will cut into the Last.fm radio-listening user-base — that is until the two applications become more complementarily integrated. Whether the move will lead users to turn to Spotify or revert back to illegal filesharing is yet to be seen, though I suspect a younger audience located outside the G3 nations who are without the convenience of credit card access will resume (if not doing so already) the use of P2P and mirrors without any trouble at all.

According to Last.fm’s Matthew Ogle, the UK, US and Germany ‘are the countries in which we have the most resources to support an ad sales organization, which is how we earn money to pay artists and labels for their music. We are focused on the US, UK, and Germany as key markets, with the help of the CBS Interactive salesforce and our own sales team here in London. Our headquarters are in the UK and we’ve always had a strong presence in [Germany]. And so we’ve made the decision to focus on these markets for free streaming radio.’ But it would be naive to think that this only impacts specific markets, because web developers will be affected as well. As Steven Bengtson, a creator of the application Songbird, has pointed out, ‘this is also a big pain [because] we are releasing an update to our Last.fm add-on that allows streaming [and now] too bad for those other countries’. In addition, the same goes for labels whose main operating base lies outside of the G3, as a representative from a Brazilian label mentioned in discussion, making Last.fm less prominent of a feature in terms of marketing the music of a label to a home audience facing a price barrier under the proposed scheme.

Out of all the Last.fm user comments, perhaps this one best sums up the current situation: ‘It’s been a pleasure building up a global database for you so you can turn it into gold and then screw people over.’ A successful business strategy is, after all, extremely difficult to fine-tune and maintain whilst adapting to market forces fluctuating in a volatile global economic climate — not to mention the difficulty in appeasing everyone involved, especially when everyone is the massively infinite online community. Evolution is absolutely necessary in order to stay afloat and survive in the longrun, and a good demonstration of prospective monetization of web-based applications to build up the coffers in ways surpassing the potential of advertising was the spoof article in recent circulation on Twitter, itself about Twitter and the creation of premium accounts. Already Twitter has begun to test its own advertising model, bringing it closer in line with Facebook’s Beacon. But whereas content on networks such as Twitter and Facebook is user-generated rather than licensed by media industries (music, mainstream news and ‘premium’ video content) long struggling in the advent of piracy and online technologies, advertising no longer seems to be helping to balance the books.

To be honest, as I am currently in London and already a Last.fm subscriber, I am not particularly affected. However had I been in either Stockholm or Cairo at he moment, I would have to reconsider the burden of my subscription (probably dropping it for the latter city in question due to the exchange rate). Having written my IB dissertation on socio-economic disparity rooted in exchange rates and purchasing power parity in relation to the Third World some years ago, €3.oo will never seem to me to be a ‘mere’ €3.oo to be spent on something in a country where bootlegs are no more taboo than breathing the polluted air is. But for the time being, I will have to ask fellow neighbours and Last.fm users about whether or not they would be willing to pay the premium — especially if they are Spotify users as well. And I’m sure that the general outlook will change once Spotify becomes available worldwide, though considering the headache of all the licensing red tape it’s currently up against, part of me thinks global domination will be very unlikely for some time yet. But until then, perhaps Last.fm would be best advised to adopt Facebook’s recent approach of democratization if it is to maintain its popularity — and hopefully then it will take into serious consideration the feedback it has received from its users thus far after such a significant proposal of change.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Spotify v Last.fm (pieces at random)

Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)

Site overhaul (pieces at random)

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Typographer’s bible

5 March, 2009

Many apologies for the rather erratic frequency in posting throughout this month and the last.  It comes as a result of two-timing (or four, rather) with other sites as a regular contributing writer. And alongside a likely impending move away from an increasingly weary London (all to be revealed soon), calibration of both overall work scheduling and correspondence has been far from finely tuned. So if the phrase ‘coming soon’ has cropped up here more often than usual about any given topic mentioned in passing, please bear with me until ‘soon’ eventually comes. I’ll also try to double-up whenever possible to compensate. In the meantime, here’s a little treat for fellow typophiles who can’t get enough of the eponymous online network and special features such as Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica. I had recommended a book for pre-order amongst other things in the Christmas gift round-up published back in December of last year. Surely enough, March is already here, and it’s time to celebrate the long-awaited first edition publication of The Typographic Desk Reference. To be honest, I’m more than a little excited about this, as I have a slightly if not bizarrely intense font fetish that has persisted since age five (though I suppose that would fit well with the job description).

It also helps if you have a thing for lovingly presented design reference and coffee-table art books. Published by Oak Knoll Books, it was written and designed by entrepreneur Theodore Rosendorf, who began his graphic design career with creating logos back in 1992. He is now the creative head of the Matador branding and communications company based in Decatur, Georgia. With clients as varied as Nintendo, CNN, the CDC and Coca-Cola, Rosendorf is obviously well-positioned to share his wisdom on the detailed world of kerning and foundaries. As such, the TDR has been broken down into the following sections for swift ease of use: ‘Terms (definitions of format, measurements, practice, standards, tools, and industry lingo), Glyphs (list of standard ISO and extended Latin characters, symbols, diacritics, marks, and various forms of typographic furniture), Anatomy & Form (letter stroke parts and the variations of impression and space used in Latin-based writing systems), and Classification & Specimens (historical line with examples of form from blackletter to contemporary sans serif types)’. These four will be preceded by a foreword written by designer and curator Ellen Lupton, who describes the book as ‘the ultimate tool for the type geek’.

Now I just wish I’d been closer to Atlanta’s (context) gallery to be able to attend the book release party on 20th March… The Typographic Desk Reference now available to order from Oak Knoll and Amazon, US$45.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Arabesque (pieces at random)

Ambient space (pieces at random)

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Crush on you

14 February, 2009

Just in time for St. Valentine‘s day of reckoning and the launch of Virb 2.0: From the wonderful people who brought us Fifty People, One Question comes yet another inspired idea that aims to bring us together through the spirit of love and generosity. Only this time, the Crush + Lovely creative studio based between New York and San Francisco have narrowed the number down to two lucky winners in their offer of  a round-trip, all-expense-paid ‘nerd-core’ getaway very aptly dubbed ‘Crush on You‘. The designated destination? New York or San Francisco, for some webernet schmoozing and dining over a fourteen course ‘tasting’ menu (mezzes anyone?) with two of the six eligible bachelors and bachelorettes on show: Julia Allison ([non]society), Brad Smith (Virb), Dan Rubin (Sidebar Creative), Emily Doubilet (Sustainable Party), Kenneth Chu and Jina Bolton (both Crush + Lovely). Now basically what would have to happen in order to win this chance to, as they say, ‘meet them face to face to flirt, frolic, and make out to your heart’s content with mutual consent’ is to follow Crush + Lovely on Twitter (@crushlovely) in order to help them reach their 14,000 target.

The refreshingly not-so-small and rather people-friendly print for eligibility in this special rendezvous extravaganza is coordination of travel dates whenever most convenient for all those who will be involved (offer void where prohibited), whilst guaranteeing good fun, i.e. ‘not in any way creepy, sketchy, or oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-he/she-just-touched-me-there-y’. This is also ‘including but not limited to […] hay making, rick rolling, play faking, code doling, tongue lashing, hash tagging, the over under, the heart asunder, shotgun weddings, or the taking of toast and tea’. As I’ve already entered, fellow Twitterers next-door will already know who I’ve chosen (see reason for choice in tweet followed by #crushonyou) — though admittedly when the odds are 14,000+ to one, the chances of actually getting to meet one of these young and fetching web wizards is slim. It’s still a lovely idea, nonetheless — not to mention that congratulations are due for the launch of Crush + Lovely’s beautiful new site. And so it is on that note that I shall leave you with Édith Piaf‘s classic ‘À quoi ça sert l’amour ?’ featuring Theo Serapo.  Have a happy (preferably not sappy) Valentine’s!

Film by Louis Clichy and Cube Creative based in Paris.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: To wake up… (pieces at random)

Parlement of foules (pieces at random)

Winter wrap-up v.1 (pieces at random)

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Going indoors

4 February, 2009

As the young Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude overlooked the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a tag was described in narration as being ‘a reply, a call to those who heard, like a dog’s bark understood across fences’. Set on the Heights Promenade in The Fortress of Solitude, a sentence from that chapter still lingers with me years after having read it: ‘Under oblivious eyes, the invisible autographed the world.’ It was through this monumental saga by Jonathan Lethem that I first began to understand street art and the multifaceted history that has brought it off streets and into galleries today. In a plot spanning generations in Brooklyn’s Gowanus projects between the 1970s and 90s, the Solitude‘s story was one painted by graffiti as representation of cultural identity, musical heritage and gentrification. Tags representing names were the artists’ signatures sprayed on the sides of  buildings and trains, to be displayed to the world en route to the next destination. A fine line running through the graffiti underground defined the segmented yet not entirely separate areas of self-expression, vandalism, and street culture that were so richly diversified by an impoverished creative youth and their livelihoods often stereotyped by gangs and crime. Yet since its very inception, the cryptic messages alluding to the characters bearing credit for colourful blurbs and stencilled imagery were just as much a mark of their own brands as it was their ideas.

The cover of the Faber edition of the Solitude pays homage to the tags within: ‘DOSE’ etched in black, sprawling in its myriad ways. Anyone from Gowanus would have known that it was the work of Mingus Rude. And Dylan Ebdus’ as well, although he himself had no ‘name’ of his own, and therein lay the metaphor of his personal conflict. Since before the time of Christ, the etches and inscriptions on surfaces (‘to scratch’ in Italian’s graffiare) served as signage to communicate messages for public consumption (initially believed to be that of prostitution). It’s interesting to think that even the current revival of graffiti in the Middle East, for example, can be drawn back to examples of proto-Arabic Safaitic in the Arabian peninsula region in prehistoric times. But ‘modern’ graffiti as we understand it today began to take its overt shape in the late 60s on the streets of cities such as London (‘Clapton is God‘), Philadelphia and New York. Implemented by music-lovers, activist ideologues and groups protective of their urban territories, New York City came to the fore as a graffiti centre in the 1970s, where the use of tags as ‘bombs’ was introduced onto the subway network, and the mirroring of a growing hip-hop music scene in both competitive quality and source of inspiration was undeniable. It’s this street sub-culture with its off-shoot terminology and music that’s conjured the names of Lethem’s characters (Bob Dylan and Charles Mingus) and the likes of Bomb the System.

Written by Adam Bhala Lougha, the award-nominated film features a group of New York graffiti artists and coincidentally enough, a fantastic score composed by alternative hip-hop artist El-P. But it took until halfway through the 1980s for street art to go indoors and formally enter the art world. The very foundation of the United Graffiti Artists in 1972 served the eventual purpose of drawing artists into a gallery environment that would spotlight their work with a respect often lacking in its habitual haunts of the urban built environment. Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was the graffiti artist formerly known as ‘SAMO’ (Same Old Shit) whose work bore the ‘wildstyle’ combo of hip-hop and spray-paint. Graffiti artist John Fekner was said to have demonstrated the plight of New York’s deteriorating standards in urban living through ‘art interventions’ portraying many concerns towards the social and political welfare of the city’s inhabitants throughout the 80s. Fekner is well-known for these word installations underpinned by contemporary urban issues and stencilled on buildings throughout New York. And consequently, as city officials moved to drive forward ‘clean-up’ campaigns to rid the streets of what they viewed to be vandalism, graffiti became more commonplace in galleries overground.

It is this move that helped to continue the ‘culture jam’ of political and socio-economic subversion dominating as artists’ themes. While a debate raged on as to whether or not graffiti was ‘art’ in the first place, Basquiat and others like him exhibited in their own studios. A show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006 has since paid tribute to such graffiti legends, and designer Marc Ecko has long been an advocate of graffiti as art. Increasingly popular in the commercial mainstream over the years, advertising has picked up on graffiti in tactical account planning to push product hype: IBM launched a campaign in 2001 which saw the spraying of sidewalks in San Francisco with tags such as ‘Peace, Love and Linux’. Last year, Youdoodoll founder Sarah Lu launched a ‘paint-off’ in association with Pepe Jeans, stencilling some colour onto Portobello Road’s façade. And of course who can forget Obey Giant’s Shepard Fairey (headline photo) and his iconic posters for Barack Obama? Widening acclaim for his cross-hatched propaganda and street art has landed him at the Irvine Contemporary with Regime Change Starts at Home, and Manifest Hope over at the DC Gallery. Fairey has also collaborated with Syd Garon and Paul Griswold on N.A.S.A.’s debut promo for the track ‘Money’ — once more seeing the meld of hip-hop, street art and bold political statement.

The current exhibition of subversion artist Brad Downey over at StolenSpace‘s Dray Walk Gallery in East London is another fine example of street art being contained within the confines of a gallery setting. Titled An Honest Thief and running until 8th February as his first solo show in the capitol, Downey presents visual challenges to urban archetypes through the mangling of street signs and riddling of traffic markers (photo above). His concoctions of ‘found art’ in the urban spaces of Atlanta, New York, London and Berlin are founded upon his being a member of a family within which his upbringing inextricably bound him to the US Marine Corps’ itinerant lifestyle. As such, Downey’s understanding of varied systems of regulation endemic to geopolitical landscapes is one of the reasons why he is so fine-tuned in producing provocative displays of de-regulation in the public setting. Currently a lecturer on ‘unsanctioned public artwork’ (himself a graduate of the Slade School and Pratt Institute), his understanding of urban art within a framework of social context is translated into his assembled pieces. By removing the facets of mundane objects succumbed to the status quo, he re-interprets them only to then put them back in — infusing re-instalment with a new-found sense of meaning still relevant to their initial metropolitan situations set out by political city officials and ‘official’ urban planners.

Another exhibit I’ve visited (although almost exactly a year ago to date) was an Urban Angel retrospective in East London. The primary grassroots urban art dealer comprised of a small group of private collectors and affiliated artists diversified in the creative styles of stencilling, urban sculpture and contemporary street art is set firmly amongst my favourite of creative London rosters today. With the work of street artist PURE EVIL‘s Charley Edwards and his vampire bunnies featuring last year with pieces such as the pink-sprayed ‘FUCK ART LETS DANCE’ and infamous ‘LIVE EAST DIE YOUNG’, the space presented many more examples of graffiti artistry. Edwards, influenced by San Francisco’s skateboard culture and graffiti artist Twist, launched a spray-campaign in London to examine what he states as being the question of the ‘big picture’: ‘What does evil look like?’ The  positive reception it received is certainly far from surprising: February 2008 saw the industry puritan Bonhams‘ first auction dedicated to urban art, further anchoring the style in commercial mainstream. Having newly opened its permanent Art Lounge space on Redchurch Street this past December, the show titled XXI is previewing tomorrow by invitation and will run throughout the month with original features from artists such as Copyright, Derek Albeck, Dotmasters, Inkie, Know Hope and Zeus (of the distressed Chanel graffiti given mention here a while back).

And bidding us return back to New York is yet another specimen of London graffiti via the world-trekking Banksy. Obviously not needing any more formal introduction, Banksy exhibitions taking place since 2000 and his recent selling of works at auctions for unprecedented sums in the urban art world is news buzzing regularly through today’s media circuit. He is, of course, one of the most recognizable icons in the graffiti street art movement; and with a reputation that precedes him, he’s acquired fame despite his adamantly maintaining pseudonymity. In October last year, Banksy’s comical ‘Village Petstore and Charcoal Grill‘ sprang up in New York’s West Village (see video below), taking his incredibly intelligent style of satire to even higher levels. The tongue-in-cheek guerilla installation, as filmed by the talented filmmaker Seth Brau, pokes fun at everything from consumer culture and fast-food, to surveillance society and its own self-deprecation. The animatronics involved so greatly departs from anything else seen on street art’s urban horizon that it nearly inadvertently demonstrates the great diversity and potential in street art as an artform in its having done so.

And so it is in the midst of all such irony that it appears the artworld’s institutionalized industry of traditional, ‘un-street’ setting most famously adorns the greatest visual impacts of artists whose autographs are no longer invisible — and whose audience is not so oblivious after all… Filmed and edited by Seth Brau. Music title ‘Barefootin” by Daniel Holter and Kyle White of the Burst Collective. Courtesy of Burst Labs and Extreme Music (Sony/ATV).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Street value (pieces at random)

Warhol v Banksy (pieces at random)

My playground (pieces at random)

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RIP tDR

1 February, 2009

1986 – 2009

Traipsing between those fine lines of celebration and remorse, it’s difficult to know just how to begin when writing an obituary. Sentiments of grief are best kept at a minimum should you not wish to upset anyone, whilst vacuous praise may have a rather opposite effect. But how does one go about writing the necessary retrospective when the deceased is not a person at all but an enterprise, a conceptual entity shaping the era in which it was up and running? Short of having lived on another planet for the past six months, news of the global recession having taken its toll on major business leaders and small players alike is nothing new. However, one closing its doors in particular has brought on the sort of sentiment felt when a good friend moves away. In fact, this very piece has been sitting in my draft box for the past three years, left to ferment as a blank page at large reserved for the studio that inspired my career choice and passion for a field that — let’s face it — hasn’t always been as experimental as it is today. Admittedly I was so enamoured, so enthralled by what I saw to be (and indeed was) at the very pinnacle of graphic design enterprise at the time that I’ve been too wrapped up in navigating my way through the realm which it has created for itself and for the many clients whose successes were partly hinged on the humourous, constructivist visual impact it provided them across boundaries.

But never did I expect to be writing on such a sad occasion of finality. And it is thus after twenty-three long and successful years, The Designers Republic has bid its farewell. In founding the studio in Sheffield all those years ago in order to provide graphic support for the flourishing ‘SoYo‘ music scene and the band Person to Person, creative director Ian Anderson managed to create a dynamic home-grown alternative to the overrated London design scene. The byline to be ‘Made in the Designers Republic, North of Nowhere’ soon became a desired branding of its own, though ironically tDR’s roots were based on a vision less ‘branded’ and rather more frank about big-city commercial culture and the insatiable consumer demand that went along with it. But it is precisely this paradox that has dominated throughout its lines of work in recent years whilst setting itself apart from the rest, catering to big-name clients such as Nokia, Nike, Saatchi & Saatchi, Orange, and commerce’s favourite target of criticism: Coca Cola. Today, the quintessential tDR style noted to have been inspired by Moscow’s VKhUTEMAS school of the 1920s is perhaps one of the most recognizable of UK studios abound: bright colours, abstract shapes, in-your-face images and modern disjointed typeface in English, Japanese and binary code that screams out whether it be in print, screen, a national flag or a European Space Agency logo.

All of these elements played into the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that shaped much of its famed output. But to be honest, it’s wasn’t the corporate shelf of Anderson & Co.’s portfolio that first caught my attention. Referring back to its initial connections to the Sheffield music scene, I actually discovered tDR through the work it had done for electronic labels such as Warp Records and the now defunct Em:t Recordings — and for groups such as Moloko and the similarly defunct Funkstörung (see video below). Who can forget Richard D. James leering in a bikini on the cover for the Windowlicker EP, or the vintage sci-fi number for Mat Jarvis’ Gas 0095? The Nine Inch Nails lithograph concert poster series fatigued and true to the band’s industrial heritage proved a further irresistible pairing between the studio and music, as well as the more recent steel-clad limited edition of Quaristice following a long line of covers for Autechre with the hypnotic accents of tDR’s ‘Customized Terror’. I had drawn a comparison some time ago between Anderson and both Warhol and Hirst, and it was vis-à-vis the inextricable links to music that their tremendous impacts paralleled on the cusp of visual representation viewed by an audience of listeners who enjoyed such imagery built on the sounds that lured them into collecting merchandised memorabilia via concert venues and niche online retailers.

And this impact has certainly not gone without ample recognition: In 2001, Q magazine chose the 1987 cover of Age of Chance‘s Don’t Get Mad… Get Even! as one of the ‘100 Best Record Covers of All Time’. Meanwhile, a sold-out 1994 Emigre issue revolving around the Republic was auctioned off for more than $750. Even more recently, tDR was featured amongst the roster of twenty-four artists in the Maxalot projections at the Hague for the TodaysArt Festival in 2006,  with a statement of simply ‘Wait Here. Help Is On The Way.’ spanning across the City Hall building in a fashion that went beyond correct kerning demonstration: it was another example of the ethos that brought about the wordplay visuals of ‘Thinking and Doing’, ‘Design or Die’ and ‘Work Buy Consume Die’ en route to the ‘This is the Emperor’s New Clothes’ theory. Incidentally, TodaysArt also brought the work of tDR alongside that of Universal Everything, another Sheffield-based studio whose director Matt Pyke served at tDR as a senior designer for eight years. Which brings me back to the point of the studio being in Sheffield: the playful anti-capitalist ethos so evident in Anderson’s work stems from his world-view (and love of good music) that led him there in the first place. ‘Sheffield doesn’t have places like Hoxton Square,’ he told the Creative Review in August 2001. ‘And I think, Good, that’s why we’re here. I’d rather slit my throat than have to work with people like that.’

‘The majority of clients haven’t the faintest idea what they’re getting into when they work with us, and a lot of them just haven’t got the balls to see it through. It’s really disappointing to realise that so many people involved in commissioning creativity haven’t got the faintest idea what creativity is.’ Amen. Finally somebody said it, and I couldn’t agree more. The fact that Anderson doesn’t ‘really give a shit about what anybody else does, or about being in anyone else’s band’ is why the legacy of The Designers Republic is worth more attention than much of the rest out there (though it does seem they buckled under commercial pressure throughout the last three years). But their ingenuity and individuality has always counted so positively in terms of a socio-anthropological relevance throughout a broad spectrum of visual communication. Now, not having had a chance to purchase any of the limited edition prints from the tDR online ‘disinformation’ merchandise flagship lovingly tagged as ‘The Peoples Bureau For Consumer Information‘ (the neon night-scene Tokyo print and catchy T-shirts were amongst some of my favourites), I’m glad to know that Anderson has indicated that eventually tDR ‘will rise again’. In the meantime, a copy of the LovebytesVolatile Media DVD, several albums, and various videos will serve just as well amongst the prized memorabilia to reminisce in anticipation for the second coming of the Republic.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

‘Grammy Winners’ directed and produced by The Designers Republic
Funkstörung, Appetite for Disctruction (!K7 Records, 2000)

See also: V&A Forever (pieces at random)

Ambient space (pieces at random)

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Flash fantastic

29 January, 2009

The lovely folks over at Boing Boing have often referred to Flash sites as stupid, monolithic blobs that render deep-linking (linking directly to a site’s internal pages) as virtually impossible. As a writer who feels it absolutely necessary to provide the most precise location of all cited sources, I couldn’t agree more. But as a designer, I find that one can achieve so much more when building with Adobe Flash than when depending on squarish CSS or just using (X)HTML. Bearing in mind that deep-linking is already in threat of being branded as a copyright violation in some parts of the world thanks to the ageing legion of out-of-touch judges, there is no doubt that the recent increase in the use of Flash will go on unabated until a more dynamic tool hits the mainstream media. And that’s not such a bad thing when considering the stunning combinations of graphics, video, animation, sound, and interactive navigation that are unparalleled when truly balanced in both aesthetic presentation and streamlined function. Designers who adhere to the principle of creating impressive designs that also serve as both usable and intriguing interfaces are the ones who should be looked towards for genuine inspiration in how one ought to make a site look. As opposed to Flash sites that are (excuse the pun) just flashy, that is.

Quite frankly, I would rather refer a reader or my client’s customers to a ‘monolithic blob’ if I knew they would be able to easily locate what they were looking for and all else that may be equally of interest along the way. Besides, there are several methods of creating linkable pages within Flash (primarily through the naming of frame anchors), and recently built examples live up to this current industry standard. Ultimately, simplicity and creativity are key when striving towards interactive motion graphics on-site. After an interning stint at the web design division of an ISP several years ago, I had seen some pretty awful styling methods that are surprisingly still quite common today (government-affiliated websites are all too frequently exemplars of shame in that regard). But rather than list those now (maybe later, though), it’s much better to celebrate the ones that have succeeded in visual mastery and cyberspace ergonomics. And listed below are ten of my recent favourites found whilst browsing, with brief descriptions for quick reference. There are many more out there, so I may soon update this list for inclusion in a regular album-style line-up with screenshots similar to the recent series of reviews here. Feel free to send in any interesting finds of your own if you’d like them included — especially if they’re your own original creations.

01 » Trevor Jackson :: site of the London-based all-round creative
02 » playMUJI :: instructional product promo micro-site for MUJI
03 » CREAKTIF! :: multimedia graphic design studio based in Paris
04 » AgencyNet :: marketing solutions agency in Fort Lauderdale
05 » Paregos :: graphics and advertising agency based in Stockholm
06 » SectionSeven Inc. :: design and development office in Seattle
07 » The United Network :: WPP global advertising micro-network
08 » hellokarl :: site of French designer and artist Charles Kalpakian
09 » AKQA :: global advertising, media and design agency network
10 » BIG :: site of the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Content awareness (pieces at random)

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Sticky logistics

20 January, 2009

Many apologies for the recent random disruptions in operation. I had received e-mails last week about several on-site issues resulting from the host having difficulties with universal caching earlier. But luckily that issue has since been resolved, with the premier of WordPress.tv coming as more than adequate conciliation. Of course there has also been yesterday’s sudden disappearance of the UI — or change, rather — as maintenance finally went full-throttle. The feedback received since the previous update seemed to be just as split as I was on the decision. I figured the indecisiveness indicated that by now it was beyond overdue: the gradient grays were not at all helping to curb the claustrophobia. So here it is, lots of white space with sparse linear noise. The silhouettes will more or less be up for the time being. With deadlines approaching, there isn’t much time for well-calculated construction as yet. But consider this a trial-run to verify whether shifting content-focus makes lengthy reading and image-viewing more of a comfortable task to tackle outside the confines of the feed reader. Things may continue to alter throughout the upcoming few weeks until a single stylesheet settles the matter. So if loading appears faulty until then, this will most likely be the reason why.

Just thought I’d throw that in to clear up the confusion, as the title and image above suggest that this post wasn’t initially meant to be an update. The banter of the day narrows in on something that has kept these pages and indeed other areas of daily activity afloat. I like to think of it as the Band-Aid for modern living, fit for the organized though slightly frazzled multi-tasker whose work inevitably becomes steeped in mounds of paper despite all the paperless alternatives gadgetry offers today. The Post-it Note is certainly one of those inventions that is the quintessential brandname-namebrand: Hoover, Kleenex, Cola — any type of object referred to by the name on the tin rather than the term in the dictionary. To think that a small square of paper with non-abrasive adhesive could become such a fundamental part of what we instinctively expect to see in offices, classrooms, and on desktops worldwide is something of an incredible feat. One can only dream of designing an item that is so solidly welded to the culture or activity whose purpose it serves, that it essentially never goes out of demand. In the spirit of Objectified, I owe it to Dr. Spencer Silver to give him an honourable mention here, as without him, Arthur Fry would never have conceived the adhesive application on paper and the Post-it would never have been patented by 3M to launch in 1977.

Today, made available both under the original brand umbrella and in other extraneous generic forms, there’s no shortage of colours, sizes and applications for the household sticky-note. Brooklyn-based artist Rebecca Murtaugh is well-known for using them in installation art pieces, often requiring hundreds of dollars’ worth to cover walls and furniture for a neon mosaic effect isolating the contours of objects through two-dimensional texture. In the virtual world, Jack Cheng’s popular StickyScreen homepage alternative to 3M’s Post-it Digital Notes is a great project providing some space to jot down a brief itemized to-do list for constant reminder every time you open your browser. Even further on the multimedia front, award-winning illustrator Jeff Chiba Stearns animated his entire journey to become a filmmaker on 2,300 Post-its, set to a score by Genevieve Vincent (watch Yellow Sticky Notes below). And its use for sake of memory makes good sense: Harvard psychology department head Daniel Schacter, the author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, discusses how the Post-it functions as a ‘prospective memory cue or an external memory aid’ that compensates for our inherent absent-mindedness due to the ceaseless sources of distraction in our lives.

And on that note, don’t forget to watch the inauguration streaming live from D.C. today at 11 am EST (4pm GMT) courtesy of MS Silverlight via the official inaugural site. Comprehensive updates will also be featured on Joost‘s ‘Everything Obama’ channel for US-based users and anyone using a proxy, and CNN.com Live is covering this historic event in tandem with Facebook.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: ‘Humble Masterpieces’ (MoMA 2004)

British hallmarks (pieces at random)