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Red all about it

Categories: Our work, Useful/interesting

If you've been anywhere near Birmingham city centre recently, you can't fail to have noticed the abundance of – very red – promotional bits and pieces we've designed for International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014.

It really does appear that IDFB's painted the town red – handy really, as one part of the festival is a participatory strand cunningly named Paint The Town Red.

We also did the promo for the previous IDFB in 2012, but this year is a whole new kettle of fish (red snapper?), what with IDFB being the 'signature festival' of the city council's new Festivals Birmingham initiative. There're posters, flags, banners, planter boards, scrolls, bus 'supersides', digital screens, airport toblerones, phone boxes …

I've been out and about taking photos of various ads, as well as being sent pics by other folks – here are a few of 'em:

Photos of various bits of IDFB outdoor promotion – flag, poster, banner, bus, train, phonebox

Keep an eye out for all the other stuff – and have a browse of the festival website to find out what's on: idfb.co.uk/whats-on

(IDFB 2014 runs from today until 25 May.)

10 years, 1 logo

Categories: Tenth anniversary, Useful/interesting

We like to ensure our designs are long-lasting – a philosophy perfectly demonstrated by our very own logo, designed by Kris a little over a decade ago.

Although the Supercool brand identity has evolved over the past 10 years, from crazy-busy multi-font-waterfall graphics, to stylish, sophisticated duplexing and foil-blocking; our logo has remained a consistent element.

As the logo is such an important part of our company and brand, we really should acknowledge and thank designers Paul Renner, Edwin W. Shaar and Tommy Thompson.

Renner was the German typeface designer who designed the typeface, Futura; first released in 1927, it was originally cast in Light, Medium, Bold and Bold Oblique weights. In 1955, Shaar and Thompson were responsible for the Extra Bold Oblique cut used for our logo.

We're in … assorted company. Other brands with Futura logos include Absolut Vodka, Domino's Pizza, Red Bull and Louis Vuitton. It's also starred in a fair few film posters and title sequences, being employed for movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eyes Wide Shut, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic. (Kubrick and Anderson clearly fans of our beloved geometric sans serif.)

Another claim to fame – Futura is one of surely very few examples of type on the moon; it was selected as font of choice for the plaque left by astronauts of Apollo 11 in 1969. Impressive – but personally I'm not completely convinced by that kerning on the word 'WE' . Or indeed 'A. D.' …

Futura has served us well and we've no plans to change our logo in the near future.

In fact, Futura Extra Bold Oblique is currently being used to advertise some super-trendy headphones, so is showing no signs of ageing. Much like our good selves.

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This is the fourth in a series of blog posts commemorating Supercool's decade of design.

HQ heritage

Categories: Jewellery Quarter, Learning things, Tenth anniversary, Useful/interesting

Since the beginning (aka 2004), Supercool has been based in the same building in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.

When we moved from the rear office to the front a few years back, it prompted us to do a bit of digging into the history of this listed building. Our tenth anniversary seems as good a time as any to share what we found out.

From some internet-based detective work and a visit to the Pen Museum down the road we discovered that, along with neighbouring buildings, our office seems to've formed part of St Paul's Pen Works; home to one of Birmingham's foremost pen nib manufacturers, George W. Hughes. (The factory moved to Legge Lane from nearby St Paul's Square, hence the name.)

A bit more interweb trawling uncovered a box of 'Geo. W. Hughes' pen nibs for sale. Despite its bruised and battered state, we had to buy it.

Why is it called the 'Million Pen'? Perhaps it commemorates the millionth nib produced in the factory? Was it manufactured after the factory had turned over its first £1million, maybe? We can't find the answer to that, so it remains a mystery.

Possibly an even greater mystery is the nothing-short-of-bizarre packaging design.

Along with the nib's name, the design features what appear to be a duck and a dog on the front, as well as some exotic-looking script; with the side of the box sporting another line drawing of the dog, now holding the duck in its mouth.

On first look this seems to make no sense, and have zero relevance – but one of the more believable suggestions I've come across for this peculiar animal pairing is that these creatures are in fact a goose and a fox. The clever, quick-witted fox – standing-in for Geo. W. Hughes' pen nibs – is doing-away with the goose, which represents the out-dated, out-foxed quill pen. Ah-ha!

The 'hieroglyphs', however, remain unexplained …

On the underside of the box is a big wodge of copy signed by George himself, warning people off inferior copies of his stellar product. It's incredibly old-fashioned and quite, quite ace.

Incase you can't quite make it out in the photo, it says:

"St. Paul's Pen Works, Birmingham. GEORGE W. HUGHES having, after many years of unceasing effort, succeeded in bringing the manufacture of STEEL PENS to the highest point of perfection, regrets to be under the necessity of cautioning the Public against base imitations of the Genuine Article, which disreputable parties have endeavoured to foist upon the Public. None are genuine but those with this Signature, thus– Geo W. Hughes"

Final fun fact: these very same nibs are important enough to form part of a National Trust collection.

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This the second in a series of blog posts commemorating Supercool's decade of design.

AMA keynote notes: David Carlin, RMIT

Categories: Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

All the way from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Associate Professor at the School of Media and Communication, David Carlin talked to us about a collaborative project between the university and Circus Oz – the Living Archive.

Arts organisations are, to a growing extent, becoming digital media producers so there's a growing need to have somewhere to store – and indeed show-off – past work. It's fairly simple to guess from the name that the Living Archive is a place for Circus Oz to house their videos, photos and memories (the public can add comments which the site labels 'stories', which is a nice touch) of past performances.

It's a great idea – though I'm not convinced by some of the execution. The user interface and navigation seem clunky, and the site's not responsive, making it very awkward to use on a mobile, which is a shame. (I can't help but think like a designer!)

I'm also unsure if the videos being hosted on the site itself, rather than somewhere a bit more public like YouTube or Vimeo, is ideal. This surely restricts the number of people who'll randomly and happily stumble-upon the films?

Still; the fact this stuff is publicly available at all, rather than sat in storage getting dusty and forgotten, is a good thing.

What I actually found more interesting/useful than the project itself, however, were the prompts about the project process on David's slides:

Let yourself ask "What if …?"
I guess this involves allowing a bit of time within a project to be playful and think creatively. Don't start with barriers; those will invariably come later!

Build the team to make, and to think
As a collaboration between a university and an arts organisation, the project team was comprised of people with a great breadth of skills; from information design to cultural heritage, performance studies to computer science. Everyone in the team had a clearly defined role, which is important – when folks lose sight of their purpose, there's a very real danger of a project stalling, over-running and/or being watered-down.

It's a process, not a product
Yes! The Living Archive is by its nature a work-in-progress. It's ever-growing and changing. It's not set-in-stone. 'Process not product' is something I think people are starting to their heads around when it comes to online stuff; the ability to continuously – almost seamlessly – develop something is a great strength and a major opportunity.

Build buy-in from the inside out
Another reference to the importance of internal communication, which is often thought of as secondary … if it's thought about at all. It's vital that an organisation's people are considered and consulted, and that they understand what a project – or indeed an organisation – is all about. (As mentioned in the final paragraph of my other circus-related AMA Conference post.)

The Living Archive has been built to be easy for Circus Oz to add-to, and also easy to alter the look of – they're currently working on a 'vanilla' version to license-out to other organisations.

It remains to be seen whether it will work for others – my feeling is it'd certainly need some user interface design work, and be made mobile-friendly, before it's an appealing enough product – but, for Circus Oz at least, its Living Archive is a big asset … which just keeps getting bigger!