Computers these days are amazing. With the right software and a little bit of know-how it’s never been easier to whip up any ridiculous image you have in your head, and make it a reality for all the world to see. If it doesn’t look quite as good as you’d hoped, maybe add a load of drop shadows, lighting effects and any other number of gimmicky Photoshop filters until it does? Although, after a while you begin to realise that perhaps the reason it ain’t that great, is because of the idea in the first place. If the foundations aren’t strong enough, the house will fall down. A truly great idea can stand on it’s own without the need to be supported by effects and decoration.
Every designer has one client who gets a bit neglected. One who all other clients are treated as a priority over. The projects for these less important souls invariably get pushed to the bottom of the pile in favour of work for the ‘special’ people. So who are these mistreated folks, and why are they letting us get away with treating them so badly? Well, they’re ourselves. You and I. Try as we might, the vast majority of designers have a tendency to postpone creating or updating their own design work in favour of spending time on ‘proper’ clients.
Since long before starting Mat Dolphin we’ve been hugely inspired by Non-Format. The two man studio is run by Jon Forss and Kjell Ekhorn and the work they produce is beautiful, interesting, boundary pushing and, at times, a bit weird. The pair have created a style that is both completely unique and instantly recognisable for a pretty impressive client list. Since establishing the company in London in 2000, the pair have gone on to work with the likes of Nike, Coca-Cola, K-Swiss, Gap, Sony, Adobe, EMI, Orange, Rick Owens, Nokia and The Economist as well as a number of small independent record labels – music packaging being one of the things for which they’re best known. Now based in Minneapolis (Jon) and his native Norway (Kjell), their incredible typography, design and art direction has spawned a host of imitators but by the time most people have caught on, they’re already two steps ahead.
They were kind enough to spend some time answering our Ten Questions. Here’s what they had to say.
Designers work with clients. Clients work with designers. It’s a symbiotic relationship which can be productive, surprising, infuriating, satisfying, testing… but always interesting. If we’re honest, life without clients would be a lot easier – there would be no need for compromise, no need to adhere to deadlines and the clichéd request to ‘make the logo bigger’ wouldn’t exist. These constraints and parameters are, however, the things that differentiate what we do from other creative disciplines and should be embraced. Michael Bierut knows this only too well and sums it up neatly with an all too easily forgotten point.
Weight Watchers recently unveiled a new identity, designed by Pentagram’s Paula Scher. There are a few things we wanted to mention about the identity, which lead on to a slightly bigger, more complex point.
David Airey is a designer and writer based in Ireland. When he’s not looking after clients around the globe he somehow finds the time to run the brilliant design review websites Logo Design Love and Identity Designed, (bookmark them immediately if you haven’t already) as well as amassing a huge following through his prolific Twitter activity. 2009 saw the publication of his first book. Based on his original website, Logo Design Love was a runaway success and belongs on the bookshelf of any decent design studio.
There are millions of design agencies out there. Some have been around forever, some are eager young start ups. Some are brilliant, some are awful. Some are huge, corporate machines who employ thousands of people, some are simply one person, working from the kitchen table in their flat.
Mat Dolphin, at it’s core, is two people.
Most graphic designers love the FedEx logo. Designed by Landor Associates, it’s simple, it’s clean, it’s been around since 1994 but still doesn’t look dated. The thing most designers really love about it, however, is the ‘hidden’ arrow. The little nod to progress and movement that sits in the negative space between the ‘E’ and the ‘x’. Practically everyone (designer or otherwise) knows it’s there, but being in on the worst kept secret in design does give a feeling of being in the know.
Picture the scenario: You get given a great logo design brief from Client A. You take on the project and submit some ideas. One gets chosen, developed and finally delivered. The client is delighted with their new logo and your work makes a positive buzz in the design press. Everyone is happy and the project was a success.
High fives all round.
“I’m not sure, I just think it needs a bit more, you know… wow”
The majority of designers reading this will have have been there, in a conversation with a client who is simply unable to articulate exactly what it is about the design that’s not quite right. And yes, it can be frustrating. Adding a bit more ‘edge’ or injecting some ‘life’ into a piece of design are fairly vague words that can be interpreted in a number of different ways, and extracting exactly what a client is trying to communicate can often result in more confusion than clarity.
For a number of reasons, we look at a lot of online design portfolios. The ‘work’ sections of designers and agencies websites are daily fixtures in our browsers and conversations. We sometimes look for a bit of inspiration, we sometimes look to check out what our peers in the industry are up to, but the majority of the time we simply look because we’re really big fans of good graphic design. And there’s plenty to look at.
Most decent portfolios feature multiple images in an effort to show a broad overview of the work. More often that not, a website project will show more than one screenshot, an editorial project will show more than one spread, branding projects will show various applications of the brand in-situ. Showing these is a big part of getting across the thought process behind the work and, if nothing else, makes the portfolio that much more interesting to look at.
With the London 2012 Olympics drawing ever closer, the much publicised visual identity is now rolling out and we’re seeing an increasing number of applications using the branding in different ways. The recent unveiling of the Olympic tickets designed by Futurebrand revealed an interesting turnaround. The prevailing consensus – most notably on the Creative Review comments board – is that the previously hated branding was now actually working quite well and a number of people, having lived with it for the last five years, have changed their minds. Anyone with a passing interest in design will surely be aware of the venom directed towards the Wolff Olins designed logo when it first emerged in 2007. This negativity came not only from designers but from the general public and, unsurprisingly, tabloids newspapers. Now, with designers leading the way, is it possible that the tide is turning and the logo, it turns out, isn’t actually that bad?
Dieter Rams is a legendary German industrial designer whose work has had an immeasurable impact on the design industry, and his relentless approach to pairing products down to their bare essentials has inspired designers from all fields and sectors. His work during the 60s and 70s on electronic products at Braun and his furniture designs for Vitsoe defined the purist look, with the aesthetics taking their cues solely from the functionality of the object. The list of designers and companies who have have wholeheartedly taken his philosophy on board are to numerous to mention (although it’s worth pointing out that Apple products would certainly not look the way they do we’re it not for the influence of Mr. Rams).
To mark the occasion of his recent 80th birthday, he invited his employer to publish the full transcript of his speech on ‘The Fundamentals of Design’. We love his work and the speech is as relevant now as it was when it was originally delivered in New York in December 1976, we present it here in full.
Happy birthday to one of the founding fathers of modern design, Dieter Rams.
The ‘£25 logo‘ article we recently wrote for Creative Review seemed to cause a nice bit of debate in the comments section of their blog. Which is what we had hoped for. We did however notice their was a bit of confusion over certain wording. Although we never mentioned ‘crowd sourcing’ or ‘spec-work’ in the piece, people leaving comments were using these terms in reference to the cheap logo service we used. We thought it was worth clearing things up a bit.
2011. It’s been busy, it’s been stupidly quick and most importantly, it’s been good. Along with the constant stresses and pressures that go along with doing what we do, this year has been a decidedly positive one here at Dolphin Heights. We thought a good way to round off the year was to take a quick look back at what we’ve been up to in the last 12 months. What’s been keeping us busy in and out of work, where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing and who we’ve been doing it with.
When we meet clients for the first time they’re often quite surprised to find out how long we’ve been established and how many people actually work here. It happens all the time, and even comes from other agencies within the industry too. “Really???” is a common reaction. People’s perception of Mat Dolphin is based on a number of factors. Our creative work, the brands we’ve been fortunate to work with, the exposure we’ve had, our twitter presence, this very blog etc. all go together to paint a picture, and one that is apparently bigger and louder than we are. So why don’t we just be more open about it all? The vast majority of design agencies these days share what they want to be heard or seen. Like well oiled PR companies, they carefully control what the world finds out about them. But that’s kind of missing the point. What makes agencies unique is the people that work there. Designers constantly encourage brands to be open and honest, yet hide behind the typical designer ‘cool wall’.
We’ve been talking about this topic for a while, but the original train of thought came from Bernadette Jiwa ‘brand and business catalyst and verbal designer’ who we regularly chat with on Twitter. She questioned why we at MDHQ portray ourselves in the way we do and it got us thinking. We were going to write a blog post about it but thought who better to write a post than Bernadette herself.
Glug London is an event for people from the creative industries to come together, have a few drinks and hear talks from some of the most creative designers and studios around. Each event has seen a steady growth with bigger names talking, bigger venues selling out and more people scrambling to get tickets. Needless to say, they’ve been busy. With this in mind, we thought it was time to catch up with founders Ian Hambleton and Nick Clement to have a chat about the event and see what they’ve got in the pipeline.
In 1991, after being told by his tutors at Chelsea College of Art and Design that he ‘wasn’t good enough’ to become an artist, John Dowling realised he needed a change of direction. When someone encouraged him to pursue Graphic Design, he went for it although does admit to not knowing exactly what it was at the time. In the years since then he’s learnt in no uncertain terms what it means to be a graphic designer and has honed his skills at some of the most prestigious agencies around.
Starting his employment at the now defunct Area (a studio established by two former designers from Peter Saville Associates) John went on to stints at the almighty Pentagram, SEA and Frost before setting up Dowling Duncan alongside his former Pentagram colleague Rob Duncan. They’ve used their wealth of experience to produce a great body of work for clients such as AIGA, Apple, The British Museum, Google, John Lewis, Microsoft, The Serpentine Gallery… This list goes on.
John kindly agreed to get involved with our regular Ten Questions series. Here’s what he had to say…
A couple of months ago we took a trip to the Pentagram offices in Needham Road, West London to attend a talk by designer, Pentgram partner, author and all round nice-guy Angus Hyland. The talk focused on symbols and was organised in conjunction with the publication of Symbol, the recent book by Hyland and Steve Bateman. The talk was utterly brilliant and the book is equally so. Highly recommended.
Whilst I could write at length about the talk itself and the points Hyland raised, there was one thing he said that particularly stuck out for me. When talking about the more unusual, quirky and perhaps even awkward logo designs from years gone by Hyland said…
Whilst we do lots of different things here at Mat Dolphin, our main focus is graphic design. We design graphics. The stuff that sits on a computer screen and showcases what a person or company is offering. Or stuff that is printed onto a business card and introduces who that person is and what they do. Some of the stuff we design has to communicate a great deal within a very limited space or format. Some of the stuff we do has to communicate a great deal without actually saying too much. Often we have to work with strict, client-imposed constraints and occasionally we have complete carte blanche (which can often be the more difficult way to work).