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

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?”

O Street’s Favourite Albums of 2018, Illustrated

18.12.18

Last year we treated you to tracks, and this year it’s albums. Being designers and music geeks, we felt a good way to recap our year would be to each pick a favourite album of 2018 and illustrate a cover for it. Have a listen to the top songs from each album on this neat playlist we made here.

boygenius, boygenius

I could listen to these three extraordinary artists together on repeat all day, and the studio will testify I do often try to do so. Lucy Dacas, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers blend their individual dreamy melodies and mournful songwriting in this disarming self-titled first album. They each bring a bit of themselves to the EP—you can get a feel for the driver behind each song as you listen—but their collaborative voices and styles work so well together to create something new. Something that is truly beautiful to listen to.
–Tessa

Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!

Man, I really like Parquet Courts.
–Anna

Incredibles 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Michael Giacchino

I have a confession to make: I don’t really listen to albums as albums anymore. Especially not current releases. Not through any hip effort, it’s just that I kneel before the Almighty Algorithm when it comes to discovering music these days. However, I am more intentionally selective in watching films, and the Incredibles 2 was such a big deal for me that it has straddled multiple genres for being my biggest release of the year. That said, the music is a huge part of what makes it so nostalgic. It’s like if James Bond knew how to have fun, and also played alto sax. P.S. I condemn any & all acapella covers that may be hanging about at the bottom of the album.
– Jonny

Modern Leisure , Super Sad Rom-Com

Some of my favourite music is more than just good tunes, but a trigger that reminds me of a time or a place. This one reminds me of a great few weeks I had in Denver at the end of the summer in 2018. Especially consuming sour beers and chicken wings with my very good friend Hercules Campbell, while discovering this band playing at the bar. (Bonus points for the band having the album on audio cassette on their merch table)
– David

Peter Perrett , How The West Was Won

I’ve always loved the Only Ones, even when everybody said they weren’t cool and they weren’t punk and they weren’t blah, blah, this or that. To me, they were off-beat contrary and catchy as hell and that was good enough. Frontman Peter Perrett just had something going, like he was on his own louche South London planet rock. And he was funny with nice hair too. Thus I noted the Only Ones untimely demise and his subsequent demon struggle of a solo career with some sadness. So listening to 6Music, his deadpan raucous toe-tapping gem of a comeback after all this time was kinda special. It’s the record I thought I’d never hear… and I’m not the only one.
– Neil

Jon Hopkins, Singularity

Do you remember the first time you put on Jon Hopkins’ Singularity really loud, laid down on your IKEA rug of choice and experienced a head-exploding-body-melting-into-the-floor union with the whole cosmos? No? What are you waiting for?
– Josh

Label O’ Love

01.11.18

One sunny day, we at O Street had something wonderful plopped into our laps: a big box filled with labels. Why’s that wonderful? Well, these labels are a glimpse into design’s industrious beauty of decades past: a commercial printer’s life work.

Now we’re going to share them with you. Why? They’re too good not too. It’s a labour—ahem, label—of love.

To stay in the know as we post hundreds of these dandies, follow Label O’ Love on Instagram, and keep your eyes peeled for limited edition prints and tees.

Saltwater, sushi and broken necks (or, seven steps to a stellar fishing trip)

05.09.18

The O Street way—besides ‘tea at 3’ and ‘put that scalpel down before you hurt yourself’—can perhaps best be summarised by our insistency on piling into a fishing boat to slay a handful of helpless Scottish mackerel every year. This year’s fishing trip on Loch Fyne was a belter. Here’s seven steps to a successful fishing trip.

Step one is piling into your Soviet tank. Don’t forget to gas it up.

Step two is the reel work. Get on the water and bring in some fish.

Step three is soaking in some landscapes—when you’re right in the middle of the best Scotland has to offer, you’ll want to look around. This year we saw castles, rugged hills, and the seaside abode where George Orwell wrote 1984.

Step four is getting your hands dirty by cleaning your fish. If you want that tasty meat, you’ve got to break some necks and rip out some guts. Is it worth it? Yeah. That’s the circle of sushi life.

Step five is remembering that you’re really dang cute and smiling for the camera.

Step six is finding adventure in everything you do (and seeing who can strike the best Lord of the Rings pose). We’re only here for a short while. Try to enjoy it.

Step seven? Drink too much saki and flail your way through Flaming Lips covers (accordion required).

See ya next year, fish.

Highland Gems: three places to visit near Aberdeen

28.08.18

It’s easy to knock Scotland’s tartan-carpeted tourist economy, but boy-o-boy can we do things well, too!

O Street are just back from a top secret new project in the Highlands (more about that soon), and it was with great delight that in the space of 24 hours we discovered three absolute gems to phone home about. Here’s three must-stops within a short drive of Aberdeen airport, whether you are here as an international tourist or a Lowlander up for a Highland adventure.

The Craigellachie Hotel

Home to the recently launched Copper Dog small batch blend (a point of pride on its own), this hotel also has two bars and a top notch restaurant. One venison burger and two craft ales down, I observed tattooed waiters working a packed, jovial atmosphere and thought to myself how unexpected it was to be feel so hip 4 hours north of Glasgow’s Finnieston. I can’t vouch for the hotel, but if the informal bar is anything to go by this place is a serious classy act.

The Macallan Visitor Centre

I’ve been to many distilleries in my time, but nothing quite like this. We all love the traditional distilleries (The Glenfiddich down the road from here is a great example), but driving into the car park at The Macallan you quickly realise this is a whole new experience. The strikingly modern architecture is almost hidden from a distance, created to sit un obtrusively in the wild mountainside. Approaching the main entrance by foot from the car park, the scale and size of the building is breathtaking.

Many other whisky experiences seem frightened to loose themselves from the shackles of traditional shortbread tin ‘Scottish-ness’, and for very good reason: it’s what many tourists and whisky drinkers want to see. With this new visitor centre, however, The Macallan have been brave enough to try something new, avoid the safe bet and present whisky in a brand new way. I loved it!

BrewDog, Ellon

We’ve been lucky enough to work with these guys in the past and are unashamed fans of what they have achieved. Somehow still positioned as craft, BrewDog have experienced meteoric growth—new breweries in the US and plans in place for breweries in Australia and China—that has turned them into a serious global beer player. In the current economic climate, it’s a Scottish business success story we should all be boasting about.

Approaching the brewery from the road outside the sleepy rural town of Ellon, massive brewery tanks tower over a huge complex of buildings that house BrewDog’s worldwide HQ. Inside their thriving office building you could easily be mistaken for thinking you are in the beating heart of a Silicon Valley business, or trendy east London tech giant. Further to the office building there are two taprooms, a merch shop and the soon to be opened experimental brewery Overworks. I’ll be coming straight back when that’s open!

So, next time you’re considering a weekend adventure, stuff Barcelona or New York and get your behouchies up to Aberdeen.

David,
O Street