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    Sample Lecture - what is design? Working with 2nd year Fashion Communication I realised after a few weeks into a brief that the students hadn't … Read More
    Sample Lecture - what is design? Working with 2nd year Fashion Communication I realised after a few weeks into a brief that the students hadn't quite been able to make the connection between the visuals & information they were collecting as research, the knowledge they already had, or things they were then looking at. I didn't give them a strict method or formula to follow - at 2nd year level I'd felt it would be more useful for them to find their own methods and make the process their own, then show them 'proper' methodology which is more-or-less the same as the approach they intuitively develop. Using my own research and work, I showed them a range of things that could be considered 'design research'. I discussed what I see or read in the items/things I've pulled together over the years and as a group we discussed the ways of connecting & linking different design references across a broad spectrum of material. To demonstrate how these references and research can develop into design approaches I showed a few PDF's from early design projects which specifically grew from the research examples I used in this lecture. Within that I discussed the translation of research into design development. In the second-half of the lecture I talked about reading - making connections between visual references, and turning them into a design, is only effective if you can read the references accurately. Looking at a less conventional example of a 'brand' (Jay Z) I discussed various 'touch points' which they'd all seen over the previous year and aspects of image, promotion and perception. In doing so, this encouraged students to think about what they look at, how they absorb information and how it suggests/controls/directs their understanding - it also allowed us to discuss how the notion of connecting references is relevant to people, products, visual media as well as design. Design research is a tricky thing to get your head around in design school, and it's something that really only develops over time from experience and looking at how other people do it. This lecture proved to be quite effective in terms of showing students that really, anything is possible, and anything can be design research...it's all in the understanding and the connections you make! Read Less
Really, what is design? It's everything around us, it's how we think, how we make the choices we do it's why we dress the way we do, why we're friends with people, why we buy and where we go. It's in everything we do, think and say.
And where does that come from; how do we design and how do we influence or create design?
I've been designing and researching (or following) my conceptual direction for about 15 years now - a long time - so I've accumulated a wealth of knowledge, tidbits of information, random pieces of stuff and people over these years. So when I design, I have this library to draw on.
With the research focus in this semester I'm hoping that you'll all start to develop a library of your own. It's going to take more than just using the internet though, you have to start broadening out how you research...
So this quick presentation is really just about the idea of being able to understand that everything and anything is design, and to look at the connections between all that information...and how it could be pulled together to create 'research' to create a 'story' for a project.
I've just pulled a few examples of how I've worked, and what I've looked at...as I thought it might be useful for you to see how I work.
You are all working in the area of fashion communication, which is essentially graphic design for the fashion industry...but you do need to have an awareness of the whole design sector.
When I say I have a 'library' of stuff that I've collected over the years...that's no exaggeration! This is a small selection of the books, magazines, clippings, tears and files I've got.
I collect everything, even if it's not relevant to projects I'm working on at that point, if I think it's something I might be interested in, I pull it.
As well as magazines and conventional 'design reference' material I collect lots of stuff. I love typography and packaging, so whenever I travel I pick up bits and pieces - top left are Russian chocolate bars which were just so over-the-top that I had to bring them back. Bottom left are sardine cans (I love the filigree decoration, which always seem an odd concept for canned fish). And right are a selection of old books that I have -  text layout is so different from the 50's & 60's, there's something about the way they handle bold type and normal faces that's quite inspiring. And the colours are just gorgeous.
And I suppose the cups & saucers continue my fascination with decorative filigree work and chintzy things. Penguin books (a terrible obsession of mine) have some fantastic typography on the covers of the earlier publications - again, the way they combine the fonts & faces is really interesting. And on the right, a recent discovery is the own-brand packaging in European supermarkets (makes me think of Warhol's Campbells soup prints...they're very pop and use such childishly simple graphics).
When I start to think about a new project, when I start to look around for inspiration for something, I can tie together all these random bits n pieces and create a story....
I can look at the type layout of the Italian magazine (right) and see that it's come from Life magazine, and that Hello magazine follows a similar format. But what I like about it is the tall bold red font, heavy black smaller text and the underlines - I can then tie that across to modern type examples in a book (top left), and back to old cinema poster styles (bottom right)...
...and from there I can start to look through the magazines I have, to find imagery, layouts, shoots or stories that build into that story
...and of course I stumble across other things on the way. I have lots of magazines, but also brand publications
...and from there I sometimes start to look at imagery I've got or done. These are just some street photographs from various trips....I often take shape & pattern inspiration from the 'collaged' cityscapes or typography on shop-fronts...
(I should maybe confess that one of my key design research areas is performance in, and of, city spaces - in the broadest sense)
These I just like because of the mix of textures and type...the 'think please' statement spray-painted on the wall is just fantastic.
And again, just some graphic shapes and ways of handling text in the urban environment that I liked....I don't know if they directly influence my work, but there's something nice about them...
This shot of a jumble of air conditioning units is fabulous (top right), the tone-on-tone facade combined with this chaotic organisation....made me wonder if type or graphic shapes could be treated in the same way...
Sometimes it's just totally random things that catch my eye...the colours and shapes of the pipes and berries is so abstract that they become graphics in the landscape....similar to the way-finding signage on the right
So. I have all those bits n pieces of graphic, design, photographic information....and so when I look at something like Paris Vogue (right) and see the decorative fonts and the way they've mixed up the faces for the description text I automatically pull out the imagery and sources that I've seen that relate.
In my head I can make the association between turn of the century packaging, signage in Italy and London and Paris Vogue. I can understand where it's come from. And from that understanding I can reinterpret it in my own direction.
I can start to add in some of the more random bits of stuff that I like, such as the sardine tins, and more packaging....and I can then take it off into a project in a fresh way - appropriating and remixing the information.
I can look at product & furniture companies such as Established & Sons, and see where they get their interior and print style from. I can relate it back to Vogue Hommes International and see the connection between them and that magazine audience/market. I know that Alashdair Willis is the owner, and he's the husband of Stella McCartney, so then I can look at what they do with their interiors, branding, positiong, market and see the connection to that.
So this really all comes down to pulling together a lot of connections, and building a story that can then generate a direction to follow for creating a brand and identity.
Although you're working with articles & interviews, you are essentially looking to create a brand and identity for that article/subject in the form of an editorial piece.
This is an example of how I used some of what I've seen and gathered to create an identity for a science writer and broadcaster.
I tied together what I knew about her, which my own perception of what that might mean if it were to be represented as a graphic and 'look'. I combined my research on her, with an intuitive response to how that could be translated.
From that I put together this package of design concepts for her branding. I gave her the brief overview of my approach (previous page) then moved into a more descriptive outline that suggests mood, concepts, key directions, key words - so she knows where I've come from with this idea.
Because I've always worked with patterns, I re-appropriated an element of an old piece I'd done, and created a visual which I thought would fit with the key direction/concept.
Combined with that I thought about what fonts would relate to the key concepts, the patterns and overall mood.
I tried to find a couple of font options that sat well with the pattern and my perception of her.
Then I put together a set of approaches to how that would work in practice. SImple brand pieces such as business cards, headers etc were my first approach because I hadn't been given a brief on what she specifically wanted.
I showed enough options that indicated I'd played around with variations...that showed there was some flexibility in how she could choose the final design.
And the headers I left purposefully simple, because the detail was conveyed by the business card options.
But I did want her to be able to 'buy into' the brand look so I showed one example of the header in context of her biography
So as I'd said, the patterns came from previous work I'd done.
I've worked a lot with textile manufacturers and designers - that's a long story and another presentation - largely focused on using archives and working with heritage aspects of their product history.
This PDF is one of the more recent projects I did which re-appropriated archive lace, to create cashmere knits, which then used fashion garment designs to create clothes for furniture. It was all about appropriation and building new stories from old.
This PDF is a snapshot of the way that was developed - so it gives you an idea how the same principles of designing a brand identity can be applied to a product/furniture.
And this PDF shows where that pattern obsession started from.
This first set of patterns was inspired by a poster in the background of a scene from Grand Hotel. And it was then turned into flooring for a club, carpeting and vinyl....and then apparel patterns. The other pattern stories start from similarly random influences and date back to 2003.
So this is one of the first 'connections' in my design story.
This same start-point, and the various collaborations with textile manufacturers led to the development of a brand/label (which I haven't finished and launched yet) that would exploit the archive patterns/knowledge of the industry.
So here you can see how the pattern approach was incorporated into the branding look, as well as the actual product.
This same start-point, and the various collaborations with textile manufacturers led to the development of a brand/label (which I never quite got around to finishing and launching) that would exploit the archive patterns/knowledge of the industry.
So here you can see how the pattern approach was incorporated into the branding look, as well as the actual product.
To follow-on from the initial presentation on making connections in design research, this one looks more closely at how you can read & interpret information.
There are quite a few icons and brands that I am fascinated by...one of them is Jay Z. Which may seem like a bit of a random choice, but in actual fact, as a brand, and in terms of how he has developed over the years, it's actually a brand to look at.
Jay Z, as a brand really pushes the concept of celebrity and influence, branding and identity. He has now become an entity that can move, influence and shape people, products, direction, thinking & trends. More importantly, the brand is now placed to turn all of that into significant business & commercial gain...perhaps the key signifier of effective branding.
So Jay Z. The image we are all very familiar with is Jay Z the rap/hip-hop artist. His album covers across the years show summarise where he started, and where he's gone.
Brooklyn born and bred, his rise to fame and notoriety through hip-hop wasn't unusual.
And indeed his early presentation was typical - the styling, the imagery and iconography was all aspirational. It was focused on projecting the message that he still represented his roots, he was still true. Through that 'keeping it real' positioning, he was able to rise faster in the hiphop industry - he was making money and becoming famous but still played to the audience he had in the first days of his career. This enabled him to start Rocawear with Damen Dash, ensured sales and commercial viability for the street-wear label...and it also propelled him toward becoming CEO of Def Jam.
The way he controlled his image is fascinating. This video, '99 problems', was very sophisticated in many ways. The editing, the cuts and shots carefully structured to be a slick version of street values. It nodded to the Beastie Boys Sabotage promo, which in itself was a nod to credits from 70's TV cop shows. The Beastie Boys were signed to Def Jam, so it kept its references in-house as much as keeping the visual values 'real' to the audience.
Moving forward. Jay Z was increasing in significance in the hip-hop world, mainstream music and business - he was becoming a name as much as a rapper. After shaking the early lifestyle cliches of the hip-hop scene, his mainstream prominence opened up new avenues.
Invited to appear as the headline act for Glastonbury 2008, his relatively stable brand looked like it might not transition fully to commercial mainstream impact. Newspapers internationally slated the decision; Jay Z was villainized, Michael Eavis was condemmed...there was a flood of negative press over the decision.
With that much bad press, and the public supporting the negativity by not buying tickets for the festival as quickly as normal, something had to be done.
Jay Z appeared on the Jonathon Ross show - primetime chat show, with a predominantly middle-class, mid-twenties to middle-aged audience. By appearing on this show, he was directly addressing the people who were doubting the performance and his ability.
His behaviour, his way he sat, the way he looked, what he said, how he spoke all articulated a very specific message to the audience.
He lent forward for much of the interview, he was quiet and relatively thoughtful looking throughout. He presented a character who was very approachable, nice, we wanted to like him and wanted him to do Glastonbury well.
The over-sized glasses made his eyes look big, which in turn implied openness and vulnerability. Which in turn made him more amenable to a middle-class audience.
His whole look was cleverly nodding to a 'safe' African-American image that the audience was familiar with. It suggested a cliche that their subconscious was comfortable with (think about the fact that the images on this page were coming across to the UK in the late 80's when the middle-aged audience would be part of a parallel youth culture).
Jay Z wore neutral colours, no jewelry, no 'bling', no obvious labels. The safari tones and style of the jacket could perhaps suggest a British colonial note. The rag in the back pocket affirms his street roots but at the same time, the African American image of hanging a doo-rag from the back pocket (1930's-60's approximately).
The appearance on Jonathon Ross was well received, and following that, his performance at Glastonbury was a huge success.
He managed to turn the media opinion 180 degrees - he went from condemnation to being hailed as the saviour of the iconic British festival.
His outfit and performance could be analysed in the same way that his chat show appearance was. The American flag hanging on the mic nods to Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, which was an homage to Mick Jagger. By mimicking this, Jay Z is acknowledging the 'rock' traditions of the festival scene, and almost telling the audience that he knows what the festival is about and respects that.
His outfit, again, is carefully planned. The plaid scarf (ticks the British 'heritage angle), the khaki tones (his street roots but also a country-ish feel, and also it's the same colour as Liam & Noel Galagher's parkas)...
After Glastonbury, Jay Z not only became accepted as a festival act worldwide, but the audience for his brand audience expanded at an accelerated rate. He became a household name in the UK.
In the July/August edition of L'uomo Vogue he appeared in yet another character again.
This time his representation projects a self-aware image - shown by a spread with him looking in the mirror. The small mirror glows softly in the background and subconsciously we read that as a halo - so the reader adds in a level of innocence to this self-aware, thoughtful looking shot.
The images at the top again describe somebody who is thoughtful, not ego-driven, the top right shot is perhaps even suggestive of the American Civil Rights movement, which could add in another layer that suggests he is a man who's had to overcome hurdles, mass misconception, prejudice.
And here we see him in a fairly normal, gentleman-like scenario - it's a little bit like a private club, but not intimidatingly so. He's smoking a cigar and playing chess (moving a white rook, which adds in yet another layer of meaning) and seemingly unaware of the camera.
In contrast, the shoot that Snoop Dog did with L'uomo projects a very different story.
So when reading the shoot that Jay Z did for the magazine, following the outcry, the success, becoming a household name....what is wanting with this piece?
Think about L'uomo readers, the market, what they do and where they are.
He is now positioning the brand for a higher level of 'household' name, he is showing the world that he is a trustworthy man, who knows who he is, where he's come from, and by moving the rook, he's suggesting that he is now ready to move into all/any markets.
So we have Jay Z the serious brand, the reputable persona, the business man.
When he made '99 problems' video he was transitioning from the Brooklyn street culture to a more 'upmarket' Manhattan circle - so the video had to speak to the street audience, his fans, but not scare off the executives and money. By this point, when he's on the cover of Rolling Stone regularly and in Life magazine, he's no longer projecting an image to the people on the streets, he's giving them an image they can aspire to.
He has developed into an aspirational celebrity brand, at the same time as developing his reputation as a business-man by being CEO of Def Jam and running the successful Roccawear label.
But this is when the brand begins to get really interesting.
He's moved very quickly from being an aspirational brand based on his name and celibrity/iconic status, to a very different brand model.
His website http://www.lifeandtimes.com has created a non-branded platform for him to develop.
It's a site that is autonomous and doesn't rely on his name or anything to do with his world of music/lifestyle. And what's really powerful about this site is that it is creating a brand which is not celebrity based, aspirational model, it's an influencer. It is a platform that can expand exponentially in any direction.
On the site they conduct interviews and have articles much like a magazine. The content is as varied as a culture publication. It is knowing and informative, but the way it's written is not superior, it's approachable, friendly, and you come away from it feeling like you've perhaps learned something but that it wasn't forced on you. It's really interesting to look at the website and go back to some of the earlier videos, which were very much about forcing the audience to accept a message.
There isn't brand sponsorship, endorsement in any obvious way - it almost seems to avoid that notion of being dictated to by products or brands.
It's interesting to look at this website in comparison to Gwyneth Paltrow's one - they operate quite differently.
As jay Z has moved through his career, his brand has evolved - again, an interesting aspect, brands largely remain static to their initial values & position - as he's grown. He started on the streets, fighting against 'the man', fighting to be heard. Now he is a family man.
So as he continues to become more 'normal', what will the brand do? Where will it move? What will it market? The website is the door which opens into the next phase of the Jay Z brand....and it could really go in any direction.
But no matter what it does, the rapper has become a celebrity, has become an icon, has become a brand, has become a household name, has become familiar, has become something to look up to, has become something we look to, has become something we listen to....will become something we follow.
If you start to read how brands and identities operate. If you start to look at what they're doing, where their references are drawn from and how they're using those elements to create their own story. You can begin to see a much more intricate narrative. You can see the connections. And you can begin to see where things are moving, before they move; you can design and be working ahead of the curve.
On the left I've listed a few of the brands/names that I (and others) have been interested in over recent years...there are many more.
But by starting to think about how you read branding, products, designers, labels, advertising and think about the connections - you really can start to understand the trends and shifts in design, without needing to rely on things like WGSN, Lifestyle News Network or Viewpoint (although these are all very good things to be looking at on a regular basis!).