Japan’s Extra-ordinary Everyday Design

14.06.19

What we think of as ‘ordinary’ in graphic design (the road signs, the brand logos etc…) often become ‘extra-ordinary’ when viewed by someone from a different part of the world.

During a recent trip to Japan, whilst most folks were taking photos of sunsets and locals wearing traditional kimonos, I spent my time photographing drain covers and empty drinks cans.

Sad, I know, but for all you design geeks out there, here is a selection of my favourites:

Every little thing is Japan is so visually rich, you can be forgiven missing the forest for the trees. Maybe next time I’ll notice the temples and landscapes.
– David

Eastern Seaboard On An Ontarian Skateboard

29.05.19

After exploring the Land of the Free’s West Coast last year, I went back to check out its Eastern offerings. Skateboarding through the locations mentioned above meant that I got to fill my eyes with more visual curiosities than you could shake a stick at.

If there’s one thing America knows, it’s good eatin’. The way they advertise it ain’t too shabby, either. Nobody knows what the future of branding will hold, but personally my main hope is for a resurgence of funky, food-based mascots. There is nothing more tee-friendly than a bagel wearing sneakers. A hand-made, vintage aesthetic works great for a lot of things, but probably works best for food & drink businesses in making them look like a trusted, ‘Mom & Pop’ establishment.

In Toronto I visited the AGO, which is humongous and filled with inspiring art. I was introduced to many Canadian artists, such as Lawren Harris (top left, top right). The shading and colours in his landscapes are just the best. I’m in good company here, as he’s one of Steve Martin’s favourite artists. The fierce Arctic explorer (bottom right) was painted by the gloriously named Dutch-Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff. The AGO has been making efforts to expand their collection of work by indigenous artists, such as Pitaloosie Saila who created the lithograph ‘Smoke Rings’ (bottom left). Last but not least, we have William Kurelek’s ‘The Batchelor’—his own spelling—in the middle. It’s my favourite out of all the art I saw and is filled with random little humorous details, like a discarded shoe sitting on a copy of the Catholic Times. You can’t write that stuff.

A spontaneous visit to a friend’s Grandma’s house on Canadian Mother’s Day led to us perusing her collection of vintage matchbooks, gathered over the past 60 years or so. “Why the heck are you interested in these?” Because it’s a freakin’ goldmine is why! The 3rd matchbook on the top row is a wedding favour, which apparently was quite common back in the days of mass tobacco consumption. Why can’t we just have more matchbooks for the sake of having more matchbooks? Matches were cool before cigarettes came along and will be cool long after the tobacco empire has been torn down!

As the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, Boston’s Fenway Park is a treasure trove of Americana. They’ve done a great job of keeping their old-school aesthetic without being kitschy. It’s almost worth paying $12 for a schooner of Bud Light. All of the Red Sox merchandise has doubled down on their vintage logotypes and icons, which is exactly how we would do it if we were asked (please somebody ask us).

I was going to show you the skateboard graphic on the board I bought in Toronto, but I just shred the gnar too gosh-darn hard. The graphic is scattered across various rails and curbs on the Eastern Seaboard, on some sort of spiritual journey.

Another trip to the States, another pair of satisfied eyeballs. We love real-world inspiration here at O Street, so if you have any travel gems tweet them to us. Our OSA correspondent Josh is always up for a chat, so if you are US-based and want to work with us, drop him a line: josh@ostreet.co.uk

—Jonny

Five takeaways from the Craft Brewers Conference

30.04.19

As you might have heard, we don’t just drink beer. No, our relationship with the beautiful brew is much deeper than that. You might call it our muse. But our inspiration doesn’t just come from guzzling the stuff down—we also take to putting ourselves in the shoes of brewers to better serve them.

So when the Craft Brewers Conference came to Denver, our resident American put on his coolest hat and braved the booths to see what’s happening in the industry. Here are our five takeaways from #CBC2019:


1 Ingredients matter.

The Denver Convention Center is a scary big place and the floor was crawling with farmers and salespeople pushing hops and barley. With the big names in craft brewing now available in Colorado supermarkets and ever-increasing consumer consciousness, brewers have got to be picky with what they put in their beer. The moustached dude dropping $6 for a can at his local shop cares where those hops come from and we designers need to help brewers put that information front-and-center.


2 The merch game has transcended simple branding.

In an overwhelming space, it was Brist MFG’s booth that really caught our eye—and for good reason. Their quality hats (given away for free!) and 90s throw-back Hawaiian shirts, gave off relaxed, too-cool vibes in an otherwise sterile space. Think about how this applies to your brewery’s merchandise: cheap logo t-shirts are no longer enough. Felt baseball caps, real flannels, technical hoodies and other quality wares should be in your future if you want today’s consumers to hit the town sporting your logo.


3 Quality print finishes are still the exception.

Surprisingly, quality still doesn’t seem to be the norm with packaging. Although some craft brewers work with artists and designers to push boundaries, most of what we saw on the floor at CBC was pushing efficient but uninteresting print finishes and can wraps. Just like with fine food, you don’t simply experience it with your taste buds. You also drink it in with your eyes and feel it with your hands. As long as you can work within the bounds of regulations, it looks like there’s plenty of room in the craft space to do something special with packaging.


4 Look up from your phone.

It’s the bane of our times, isn’t it? We met some amazing people, formed meaningful business connections and learned a lot in just a couple hours at CBC. One interaction really stands out though: one that didn’t happen. A company threw a lot of money at a booth, only to be squandered by their representatives sitting down to stare at their phones (they were middle-aged men, by the way, don’t blame the millennials). This is less about brewing than a general reminder that engagement is a human phenomenon and nobody is safe from apathy if you let it waltz in through the front door.


5 There’s just a LOT going on.

Hops. Barley. Water. Kegs. Cleaning systems. Brewing technology. Label printing. Regulations. In-house canning. Marketing. Merchandise. Branding. Sustainability. Brewing is not a simple endeavor; you could spend three days at CBC and still fall well short of stopping by every booth. It’s sort of like running a brewery, actually: there’s just more to do than you have time for. So, pick your battles and delegate what you can. May we humbly suggest design?

‘Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt’ at V&A Dundee

25.04.19

Earlier this year, we pitched to do the marketing for V&A Dundee’s ‘Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt’. After a very successful run in London, the show was coming to Scotland and we wanted to do our best. As it often goes with tenders, we didn’t get it. Hey, you have to be philosophical! It’s (sadly) a part of working in the creative industry. Plus, it was our pals at D8 who won the pitch and they did a great job of it.

When we were preparing our pitch, we knew that win or lose we would be going to that exhibition! Reading through the research material that the guys at V&A Dundee sent over made us pee a little.

An exhibition about videogames is likely to polarise people. An example: thanks to a childhood love of the indoors, I am now nostalgically involved in the subject matter, but also thanks to that childhood, my mum thinks screens are of the devil. The beauty of this exhibition is that it shows videogames as an art form with huge cultural influence. Anyone can get into that.

The exhibition starts off with examples of games that have taken creative risks within the genre, backing it up with loads of concept art and at one point a highly detailed level plan in the form of a trusty spreadsheet (this was Anna’s favourite part).

Next up is the most impressive room of the exhibition, with an IMAX-esque screen playing a compilation of eSports footage and YouTube videos made by intense eSports fans.

Towards the end of the exhibition, the focus shifts from the creative process of game design to the social and cultural impact. Topics of sexuality; the objectification of women; our desensitisation to violence; the unethical life-cycle of smartphones; systemic obstacles for Arab-speaking designers and the lack of black protagonists in video games are all covered in one room. And it is much more streamlined and easy to digest than the previous sentence.

The whole way through the exhibition I was thinking ‘Man, this is really great but if I don’t get to play some freakin’ videogames before this is over, I’m going to cause a scene.’ Thankfully, there were a plethora of independently produced games to try out right at the end. My composure remained intact. Lots of DIY arcade machines filled the final room, each one having been hand-painted by Scottish artists. The walls of the room were covered in beautiful murals by Ursula Cheng and to top it all off, everything was glowing neon under the UV lamps. Rad.

The V&A Dundee are on the up and up, having just been shortlisted for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2019, and the exhibition is running until Sunday, 8th September 2019. Do yourself a favour, and get yourself along. And drag your nay-saying relatives with you! More info available here.

—Jonny

CRUSH – A Love Letter From Us, To Brew

26.02.19

We talk about beer a lot. It’s maybe getting a bit weird. How do we know beer feels the same way about us? Don’t worry, we have a plan. We plan to tackle that question the only way teenage girls in problematic 80s movies know how. A love letter.

We’ve made CRUSH, a beer-zine. It’s honestly written, beautifully printed and lovingly illustrated by our team at O Street. We are pretty confident it’s just the ticket to woo our sweetheart.

What better way to show your appreciation, than drawing unsolicited portraits of them whilst critiquing how they look and taste? This metaphor is probably running out of steam, but you get it.

The two birds that have been fed with the singular scone are:
– O Street wanted an excuse to design a publication.
– O Street wanted an excuse to show beer how much of a catch we are.

We picked 6 beers that we dig, from both sides of the pond, and thoughtfully commented on the packaging (our area of expertise) and the flavour (our area of enthusiastic but amateur interest). Add a fun fact & illustration for each, and the job’s a good’un.

If you want an issue, or want us to feature one of your beers in the next issue (we will accept bribes), shoot us an email at crush@ostreet.co.uk.

http://crush.beer/

Is Logo Design Dead?

08.02.19

A social media post made a splash when designer Mirko Ilic posted an image featuring the vintage logotypes of several famous fashion brands alongside their new logos. His caption simply read, “Interesting logos are being replaced with boring ones. This are the people why are destroying respect for graphic design.”

The post immediately caught fire and was soon being debated across the internet and mentioned in industry leading podcasts such as The Observatory. Reactions tend to fall into two camps:

1 The redesigns are legible, in the tradition of Modernism, and that’s dandy.
2 Graphic design is dead.

We’d like to propose a third option:

3 Brands used to set themselves apart with a logo, but now they’re now differentiating themselves in new and interesting ways.

First, a look at the two initial camps. With its roots in Bauhaus universalism, capital-M Modernism—not to be confused with its generalized cousin ‘contemporary’—stresses legibility. In typography, this tends to express itself in simple, geometric sans-serif typefaces. With Modernism, creativity is thrown in the trash in favor of simplicity and straightforward communication. It’s all KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple), a tagline thrown around so much you don’t need to look far to see it in the comments for this debate:

Modernism has its place in design history, but it’s important to remember that it was a specific movement in the arts and advertising. While there are Modernist principles that will live forever, practicing Modernism like it’s 1960 has become an aesthetic; a statement in and of itself. Many of us are just suckers for its legacy, look, and feel. Some days I’m one of them.

But we have this other camp to contend with: graphic design is DEAD. Burn your black turtleneck and dig your grave.

For many designers, what makes them relevant is their creativity. They’re just as much artists as they are communicators, and graphic design is their opportunity to make a mark on the world. To apply that unique artistry to a brand, and set them apart from their competitors, is the best thing you can do for said brand. Postmodern design took the rigid rules of Modernism and burned them, and in their eyes, for good reason.

Sadly, in these designers’ eyes, brands are embracing cheap Modernist tricks, and buying easy sans serif logos for five bucks. Lazy designers are selling them boring crap, and killing the industry with ‘blanding’.

There’s your two camps.

At O Street we straddle a line between these two theories of practice. Sometimes, you’ve just got to communicate something so nobody shoots their eye out. Break out the Modernism. At other times, we’re itching to dig into our messy art supplies or crazy 3D digital skills, and it’s also the right thing for the client. So, we ride the line between chaos and order. Let’s call it the Design Tao.

What’s most important for us Design Taoists® is asking: “why?”. No matter the brief, the best solution starts with this simple question.

And there’s a big “why” with this logo debate. Something is driving brands to embrace these simple redesigns, so what gives? This brings us to our theory, or third camp: as brand touch-points get more interesting, logos simply hold less weight.

During the age of Modernism, all brands pretty much had the same ways of reaching their audiences. It was the quintessential ‘brand’:

– Business cards
– Letterhead
– Print advertising, and later television advertising
– Interior design

Today, it’s probably more like:

– Handheld video content
– Personal social media engagement
– Five second Youtube ads before someone hits ‘skip’
– Spacial design, specific to events and ‘happenings’ for maximum impact

Now, obviously people and brands still hand out business cards now and then, and it’s wise to have a card that’s considered and well made (call us if you want one!). But the landscape has changed, and the terrain where most engagement happens is totally foreign to the design world of decades past.

Brands have realized that logos are no longer the key identifier of their brand: interactions, digital and personal, now reign supreme. For a modern day brand operating on the world stage, a static and stable—that is, boring—logo may be necessary so that crazy things can happen on the periphery where the engagement is at. For every designer who’s sad they’re not being paid to make crazy logos, there’s a very happy designer out there making crazy motion graphics and video content.

An example from the post that set off this debate is Burberry. Their old logo was elegant and iconic. Their new one? Boring as heck; the unveiling even included incredibly self-aware email screenshots about how quickly it was made.

What’s not boring as heck is the accompanying pattern, arguably ugly but certainly not stale. The ways that it will be applied are dynamic, exciting, and interesting. The logo itself? An afterthought.

So there’s our third camp argument: logos are just being swept aside for more interesting audience interactions. Of course, we could be wrong. Maybe brands are just skimping on quality design so they can use up their budgets on celebrity Instagram posts.

We’d rather not be wrong, but if we are, you can bet we’ll ask: “why?”