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Village in a Town (Hall)

Categories: Extra-curricular, Learning things

The Imagined Village logo - styled like a directional street sign

Having recently been appointed to the design roster of Town Hall Symphony Hall (yay!), last night we were invited along to meet the marketing team and then watch/listen to The Imagined Village at Town Hall.

Having first learned a bit about Performances Birmingham (the charity who run Town Hall and Symphony Hall) in the Joseph Hansom Suite – yes, he of 'Hansom Cab' fame was one of the Town Hall architects – we joined the rest of the audience for The Imagined Village.

They're a kind of folky, world-musicy supergroup; but the sort of act you might perhaps expect to find in a smaller venue than Town Hall. In fact this bigger venue worked perfectly as the auditorium was packed enough to feel atmospheric but small enough to still have something of an intimate feel to it. Plus the sound's everso good, the lighting's great … and the seats are comfy.

It's local-hall-gig-gone-large; in a good way. (In a standing ovation sort of way in this case.)

Until last night I'd not been to see live music for ages and had forgotten how much I enjoy it, so I'm now keeping my eyes peeled for something else to get me out of the office/house in the near future. (If any local venues are considering booking Los de Abajo, I can assure you, you'll have at least one person in the audience …)

Designy reflecting

Categories: Learning things, Our work

8th birthday celebration image, with an octopus and eight-shaped underwater vessel

Supercool are eight years old. Eight!

To mark this milestone, we've been reflecting on eight years of intelligent, well-considered and effective design. While we were doing our thing …

200430 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) won the RIBA Stirling Prize.

2005Git was released.

2006 Twitter launched.

2007 – Apple unveiled the first iPhone.

2008 – Jos Buivenga designed the hugely popular Museo – a font for print and screen.

2009 'In Praise of Shadows' was part of the London Design Festival.

2010 Get Satisfaction won the 'Business' category of the SXSW Web Awards.

2011 – A Book Apart published 'Responsive Web Design' by Ethan Marcotte.

The first dance: unrelenting, bitter and stunning

Categories: Events, Extra-curricular, Learning things

Photo of Hofesh Shechter's Uprising by Andrew Lang

I was lucky enough to be invited to Dancexchange's 10th anniversary season launch and opening performance last night; a double bill by Hofesh Shechter Dance Company. Despite having seen plenty of dance on TV and online, until last night I'd never been to a live contemporary dance performance, so it was quite an experience.

The evening kicked-off with a pre-show drinks reception (in the same Hippodrome suite which houses the BRB Coppélia exhibition) and a talk from David Massingham, DanceXchange's Artistic Director. David reminisced about the work done by DanceXchange over the past ten years, and that of the various associate artists and choreographers who've developed work in the DanceXchange studios.

One such choreographer is Hofesh Shechter who created the first show of the season, Uprising, in the very same building in which it was about to be performed. Nice aptness.

Ear-plugs were provided

Performance time! Having been ushered into the Patrick Centre auditorium (via a man doling out earplugs which looked like sweets, as you can see), we took our seats and during the usual ambient chatter in what appeared to be a full house, the lights went out. They didn't fade; they went out. Suddenly. And completely. Which caused a few gasps.

Then the music started and I understood the earplugs thing; I could feel the booming, bassy, percussive, repetitive soundtrack in my feet.

I won't do a detailed recap of the entire show as I'm not a dance reviewer but Uprising was quite amazing. As far as the dancing goes, the fluidity between perfectly synchronised movement and faux-chaotic, faux-fighting was technically incredible.

Towards the end, the sound became a bit Amon Tobin, with electronic whirring, whizzes and twists – I subsequently learned that Shechter produces the music himself, which makes sense really as sound is an integral part of the performance. As is light. This was seamless; moving from single spots to moody half-light to bright, squint-worthy floodlights. Lee Curran clearly knows his stuff.

Afterwards, a single word seemed to describe Uprising: unrelenting.

During the interval the auditorium had been transformed from Uprising's raw, industrial space into a blank white canvas for The Art of Not Looking Back. A strangely oppositional match with Uprising – the style of dance fitted together but the tone this time was shrill and brittle, and included a screaming, spitting soundtrack which was uncomfortable listening.

The booming, brash, constancy of Uprising was clearly the male to this piece's stereotypically changeable, highly emotional and volatile female. (Not least because all Uprising's dancers are men and The Art of Not Looking Back is performed by women. Makes me wonder how it'd work performed vice versa …?)

A single word to describe The Art of Not Looking Back: bitter.

The performance ended with a literally awesome sequence in which both the female and male dancers became silhouetted and appeared to rewind at top speed through several of the core moves we'd just seen. It felt like watching a film being rewound, it was that convincing. Stunning stuff.

David Massingham running a Q&A with Hofesh Shechter

An interesting after-show Q&A followed, with David Massingham and the audience quizzing Hofesh about his creative process, what influences him and whether he minds other choreographers stealing from him. (He doesn't.)

There was even a point at which I thought Mr Massingham was about to reveal his favourite film is Love Actually. (He didn't. It was a Joni Mitchell song on the soundtrack he was referring to.)

So; that was my first experience of live contemporary dance. Would I go again? Yes. In fact, I'm off to see some sinister-looking dancing clowns next month. And I will be taking those earplugs, juuuuust incase …

Out of office

Categories: Events, Learning things, Useful/interesting

It's not often I take time out of the studio to do some proper thinking and learning but last week was different. Last week was Type Writing: a one-day symposium organised and curated by Dr Caroline Archer of The Typographic Hub; a Birmingham City University research centre which works to promote the history, theory and practice of typographic design. An event about typography being held on my doorstep? How could I resist?

 

A total of thirteen speakers from the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, USA and New Zealand explored "the link between typographer and the writer of words", with each person interpreting this deceptively tricky brief in a very different way. This made for a wildly diverse range of topics, presentation styles and trains of thought.

Juliette Kristensen’s take on the subject was immediately intriguing. Entitled “Talking Boards, Writing Machines: Ouija boards, index typewriters and the ventriloquism of agency in the fin-de-siecle”, we were lured back to the late nineteenth century to explore the emergence of the index typewriter. Beautifully complex machines, index typewriters operate by using one hand to select a letter with a pointer while the other hand is used to push a lever, pressing type to the page.

This protracted process was carried out by machinists who acted as intermediaries between the writer and the manifestation of their words. These women (more often than not they were women) were known as amanuenses (meaning servant of the hands), a term also used to refer to spirit mediums who operated Ouija boards; a popular parlour game of the time.

Henrik Birkvig from the School of Media and Journalism in Denmark reveals an obsession with typograms.

In contrast, Henrik Birkvig (above) focused more literally on typography itself, telling us of his search to find the correct name for a design in which one or more letters of a word are replaced with a picture, in an attempt to enhance the word's meaning. Settling on the definition 'typogram' we were drawn into an obsessive yet witty examination of Birkvig's 192-strong typogram collection, including an analysis of which letters are most often modified (the letter 'O' came out at no. 1) and a tally of good vs. bad typogram design – although a picture speaks a thousand words, it has to be the right picture in order for the design to be effective.

And effective design is clearly important to Gregg Bernstein, who's been paying close attention to the things most of us ignore. He's taken it upon himself to redesign the clickwrap End User License Agreement (EULA) used by iTunes, and discussed how use of clear, considered design can turn overwhelming strings of legalese into elegant, useful and understandable pieces of information design. Gregg further highlighted the importance of information design, showing Deborah Adler's award-winning 2005 redesign of Target's medicine bottles (simple labels, now on flat rather than rounded bottles – much easier to read) and the 'hanging chads' fiasco of the US presidential election in 2000.

An accompanying Type Writing exhibition meant that even breaks between lectures were brimming with typographic treats.

Detail of Virginia Woolf Triptych by Nicky McNaney and Tracy Allanson-Smith (Part of the Type Writing exhibition).

So what did I get out of the day?

I learnt loads (including the words 'typogram' and 'clickwrap'), was surprised by the many synchronicities between what was being talked about and my own work, and have subsequently decided that as soon as I can, I need to visit the Amsterdam University Library to get a closer, first-hand glimpse of their vast and impressive-looking typographic collection. (Original Jan Tschichold drawings, anyone? Yes please!)

An original Jan Tschichold sketch of his first published typeface Transito (c.1929) – part of Amsterdam University Library's typographic collection.

As a designer I need to create and produce work for clients but until last week, I'd forgotten the value of simply the taking time to learn new things; unexpected things, unrelated to specific projects. I'd been missing out on the joy of listening to people enthuse about subjects close to their hearts, and I'd lost that sense of freedom you get from simply doing something out of the ordinary.

The biggest impact that Type Writing had on me was perhaps less to do with typography and more about geography. It reminded me that I should get out more; put some extra "out of office" into my working life.

One of the Sentimental Journey series; a collaboration between New Zealand artist and illustrator Sarah Maxey, poet Kate Camp and typographer Kris Sowersby.

I'd like to thank each and every one of the speakers for reminding this designer what 'inspiration' means.

Steven McCarthy (University of Minnesota); Juliette Kristensen (University of Kingston); John Neilson (Letter-carver); Mathieu Lommen (University of Amsterdam);
Kathryn Moore (Landscape architect and writer) and Alex Lazarou (Designer); Henrik Birkvig (School of Media and Journalism, Denmark); Jessica Glaser (University of Wolverhampton); Ben Waddington (Local historian); Sarah Maxey (Artist and illustrator); Gregg Bernstein (Georgia State University); Rachel Marsden (Artist); Borja Goyarrola (Will Alsop RMJM) and Type Writing organiser, Dr Caroline Archer.

Keep an eye on www.typographichub.org where all the Type Writing presentations will be uploaded (in the Articles section, I think) over the coming weeks.

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A professionally tweaked and condensed version of this article appears on the website of Eye, the international journal of graphic design.