September 2010

Pearl Restaurant explores the digital menu

Front page

Tasting notes

Pearl’s iPad wine listing and menu
Digital intranet project
Duration 8 weeks from briefing

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As new technology shifts and shapes the way in which people interact with the world, tools, products and points of reference are being challenged, evolved and transformed.

On the eve of the launch of the Apple Ipad Pearl Restaurant approached the studio to explore and put their wine list on the iPad. A modest start up budget was worked out, as experience has proved that new technology projects can be redundant with a change of new technology.

Site maps, content guide, software choice, concept and design, digital development and testing was managed by the studio over a very busy six weeks. The menu utilises content management software, which all allows staff to edit and update with daily special and list changes at anytime. The software works exclusively from the restaurant’s server and is transmitted to several iPad via wireless. The new menu will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

As in the world of books this project brings with it the beginnings of a new direction for the menu format.

Thanks again to the Pearl team for your support.

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More than a corporate give-a-way for Saxton paper

The finished kit

First reveal

Second reveal

The complete wrapper

Often we are invited to respond to a problem with predetermined outcome; such as we need a brochure, or website. There are also occasions where we are encouraged to solve a problem by researching and developing possible outcomes, be it a website, an event or action, or a printed communication.

Australian Paper wanted a gift for their visitors, customers and partners and we thought is would be an idea to put aside the corporate gift brochures full of pens, mouse mats and stress balls and put people in contact with their product – paper. Developed in 2001, this paper kit with four page greeting cards and matching envelopes was wrapped in a paper carrier that protected the contents and invited, illustrated, instructed receivers to tool up and make and creating their own greeting card range.

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Five years on Australian design from 1995 to 2005

We are raiding the archive of Andrew’s writing projects past and present…

10 years of Australian design (1995 to 2005)
Australian Creative, October 2005

The past, present and future appears to be well mapped in the creative disciplines of architecture, interior, fashion, and product design, yet in advertising and communication design it seems primarily focused in the now. Is this lack of future insights incidental, prophecy or simply a good reason to have a rant?

If you Google search ‘2015’ and ‘graphic design’ on the Internet, there are 30,700 results. Page one: no hints of the future, but universities flogging design courses, design firms flogging design services, or design publications flogging subscriptions. Make a similar search in architecture or fashion and there are dialogues about buildings for changing climates and seasonal ready to wear clothing banks for hire.

Perhaps the lack of future insights reflects the advertising and design industry’s primary function to serve ideas and causes found in architecture, interior, fashion, product design, and commerce. Media guru and academic Marshall McLuhan’s quote, “All advertising advertises advertising”, seems to be not so cynical when considered in this context. Among many notable and quotable McLuhanisms, his disturbed impression of mankind’s shuffling towards the 21st century in the shackles of 19th century perceptions seems appropriate here.

The 1996 Australian Census revealed 19,578 Australian graphic designers; the 2001 Census figures grew to 21,144 designers. Compare these figures to AGDA’s Industry Survey registering 2,500 design firms averaging four people listed in 1997’s Yellow Pages, which exploded to a staggering 5,500 firms registered in 2003 averaging five employees. The numbers tell a curious story of flux in studio sizes and dispute the claim that being big is better. Studios of 12 or more staff appear to be a rarity rather than something to be fostered.

The last decade witnessed a moving feast of new customers, sectors, job descriptions, products and technology. Take a visit to your software cabinet – a graveyard of redundant floppy disks, manuals and bulky packaging. Software that was once valuable, temporarily useful, ends up some time later mostly useless. Go no further than you business card file and take note of the business cards of companies that have changed names, merged, closed shop or reinvented. [We’ve developed a sense of attachment and detachment over the past ten years, a time that can be best described as terrific, challenging and fleeting.]

FutureBrand’s latest edition of ‘Propeller’ seems to agree. It’s lead and only article, ‘Tomorrow’s World: FutureBrand’s perspective on how to monitor and predict future insights’ is a 1,500 word lure with a simple yet extraordinarily loaded projection: expect 2015 to be something unexpected.

If you are left with yet more questions about what the future holds, maybe the past decade will provide some answers.

Ten years ago the drawing table was near extinction from the typical creative studio. Desktop publishing changed the creative space forever. Physical artwork transformed into bits and bytes. Ruling pens, inks, brushes, airbrushes, bromides, and galleys of type – all the components that made artwork became a suite of tools in publishing software. People who specialised in those crafts and skill sets where closed down, retrained and made redundant.

The art director and designer moved from being a curator of the creative process to become a little of all the people he or she used to oversee – the retoucher, typographer, proof reader, finished artist, camera operator and computer operator. A creative process that once relied on convincing presentations, open-minded clients, and a spontaneous process gradually became dulled by zealous research, mock-ups that looked better than the real thing, and an expectation that everything had to perform or perish.

Technology has enabled power to shift from the organization to the individual. In few short years the type design industry has been redefined. An industry that was once dominated by a few powerful companies now has hundreds of players. A prolific body of type design, from the traditional to unconventional, has bloomed. An ancient craft has flourished in less than ten years, resulting in typeface designs in the tens of thousands where once there were only hundreds worldwide. The only downside: bewilderment brought about from the vast choice.

Designers have become chameleons too. Many who were once bound to making shuffling objects on white spaces are exploring new territory. Designers are becoming art directors, artists, film directors, photographers, entrepreneurs, writers, producers, event consultants, business strategists, educators, publishers, parents, rock stars – the seem to be making impressions everywhere.

Amid all these great and new changes, the stock markets open their doors to the general public. A new style of commerce placated the desires of short-term investors and frustrated any form of medium-term to long-term planning. Customers changed, diverted, subdivided, went underground, became affluent and niche, with laptops computers 55 times faster. And all the while new time saving devices promised us more time, yet the list of tasks for an individual to comprehend grew and grew and grew.

Critical communication design theory grew and grew and grew too. Communication design magazines and publications now address the death of the logo, and celebrate new and not so new expressions. Designers have been called to bear arms or the closest writing instrument, by revisiting an international designers manifesto first penned by Ken Garland in England in 1965 and revisited by Rick Poyner in 2000, titled First Thing First. A home grown equivalent was AGDA’s Anti Free Pitching register authored by John Frostell in 2001.

Design associations now serve memberships in the thousands with design excellence programmes, client awareness initiatives, and education resources – to the point that they have become almost bureaucratic. Design-inspired vanity publishing and self-publishing have exploded in print and digital media from simple monologues to concept-based expressions and stories. Design students can start with a basic degree in communication, and continue through to doctorate levels. Conferences, exhibitions, festivals, public forums and design markets have been dreamed up, organised, well attended, reinvented and allowed to become bigger and better every year.

The future

Then we are left with what is next.

Let’s recount Dickens’s opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities which reveals that time is the only thing that moves on; the future is a mystery until fate reveals it. I wonder if this idea is the shackleless future that McLuhan was talking is about. Find prosperity in future by expecting the unexpected and getting on with what you feel is right.

We are living a history that thrives on extremes. Ironically the latest media concept – reality and lifestyle television – may create a community focused on ‘the we’ instead of ‘the me’. The endless stream of reality programs beamed into our lounge rooms is proof of people living and consuming at their best and worst. As the novelty of such programming wears thin, new tolerances and questions are raised, and shifts in thinking take form.

What is the point of treating young people like lab rats? Why do we tolerate and aspire to be like wealthy nymphomaniac airheads? How can we stop countless logging trucks thunder out of Tasmanian old growth forests? Which war on what? Maybe in time Ray Martin will retire, be made to catch a tram, a train or car pool to work, and fit a water tank on his house, too.

Maybe the future is something familiar yet very different. Maybe you are a designer who specialised in designing with paper, in a future where paper isn’t flushed but likened to gold. A future where the client becomes a designer and the designer becomes a new generation of client. The future could be a place where the environment matters, where communities care for each other more, give all they can afford and consume less.

Will advertising and design communication be the same thing in 10 years? A recent statistic in the Good Weekend quietly stated that 8.6 billon tonnes of direct mail fill Australian letterboxes each year and 61% of householders are angered from receiving this material. Is this a sign of change to come?

As a recent lecturer at Swinburne University, I am looking forward to the next generation of creative people making their way into our workforce. Communication students are mixing learning and intuition. They are willing to ask the challenging questions and generate thinking that is more that just making white rectangles pretty. I look forward to them challenging my work and stirring the pot.

The next decade promises to be an exciting time for creative thinkers, both familiar and totally unknown. The challenge of making our way of living sustainable, and sustainable quickly, will require a solution beyond the cause of buying and selling things. It will be another decade calling for more eclectic approaches, and the rewards will be there for those willing to take risks.

I invite you to participate in the wave of new processes as actively as you can. The next 10 years, like the last, promise to be productive, engaging and full of extremes beyond our wildest imaginations – as long as you stay true to being shackleless.

© 2005 Andrew Ashton, Studio Pip and Co.

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An inspiration discussion with Andrew

What is my inspiration?

Lucy Glade-Wright a student studying visual communication at RMIT developed this questionnaire for an assignment ‘What is my inspiration?’ We felt that it maybe worthwhile for students looking for insights from a working studio. In 2005 the design communication was a more buoyant space, we will have Andrew to update these answers soon, for a 2010 twist.

Lucy Glade-Wright / What is the first thing that you do when you get given a new brief from a new client?

Andrew Ashton / There’s a lot of talking, visiting and finding out about the client. It’s quite a lengthy process. You really need to find out if you and the client can work together. Your heart needs to be in it. I will not do any work for companies that promote cigarettes, alcohol to young people or companies that cause environmental harm or exploit children.

Then there is a lot of talking to formulate a brief. We tend to deal with small/medium clients with whom we can work to formulate a brief that benefits them. Smaller clients tend to take more risks compared to larger clients who usually know exactly what they want and have very strict briefs. We like to find out what clients really need.

L G-W / How do you think of different ideas? Do you have any particular methods?

I used to go to the library a lot. But now with the internet, not so much. I search Google and I read books. I often use a written approach. For example with a carpet manufacturer, I wrote the word ‘carpet’ in the middle of a piece of paper and brainstormed ideas from that, anything relating to carpet. I also have a journal, which I take everywhere. I draw maps and a lot of written responses. I think that the better the designer, the more aware they are of everything around them.

L G-W / If you’re completely stumped for an idea, what do you do? Where do you find inspiration?

I usually don’t find myself stumped for an idea because I don’t get too hung up with things. The best ideas come with time. Some of my projects I leave until the last minute, I give the ideas as much time as possible to find a logical end. Whereas for other projects I give myself restrictions, for example for the AGDA ads I give myself three hours. There is a commercial force transforming designers into design making machines, because they have constant time constraints. The worst thing a client could do is come into the studio and want something done tomorrow, I have seen thousands of dollars wasted on breakneck projects that end up sitting in boxes somewhere unwanted. The funds are being undervalued, which means the work process is undermined, as is the potential impact of the finished products. There are exceptions of course, but what it ultimately means there is work out there not reaching its full potential. We tend to encourage our clients to slow down if possible.

L G-W / What other designers inspire you? And why?

AA / There are no particular designers that inspire me it is more so people like: David Bowie, Steven Hawking, Dylan Thomas, Brian Eno, Steven Riech, Robert Frank, Donald Friend. I appreciate things like the Roman alphabet, a kite, a bicycle; things that have the ability to change and transcend.

L G-W / I am also looking at the different processes that exist between artists and designers? Do you have any favourite artists that inspire you?

AA / Dennis Hopper, Edward Hopper, Joseph Beuys, Brendan Behan, Wolfgang Tillmans, Brian Eno, Yoko Ono, Marcel Duchamp, Jeff Koons. I find that designers tend to see themselves as bigger than they actually are.

We (designers) simply interpret. Designers curate, raid, steal, borrow from artists, normal people, celebrities, eccentrics, thinkers and craftspeople like type designers, illustrators and photographers. Type designers such as Adrian Frutiger, Firmin Didot, Matthew Carter, Claude Garamond and Paul Renner worked tirelessly and created something real; we, the designer without much thought pick their efforts for a project, we shape it in a contemporary context and send the client a bill. I mean look at Boost Juice. The genius is the original idea, the graphic design is just part of it.

When you are younger, everyone encourages you to be creative, to draw, to paint, to write stories. Then when you reach ‘big’ school (primary school), you are introduced to a world of commerce, politics, community and competition. As fewer paintings and drawings are being brought home from school, the sporting trophies and good school reports increase and the creative spirit is quietly put aside for ‘more important or worthwhile pursuits.’ Creativity from this point of personal development seems to be commonly associated with leisure, pleasure, excess and indulgence. However creativity remains active in all of us, even if untrained. It is a method people use to solve problems and make processes work better.

L G-W / When you approach a concept, how do you go about finding form?

AA / The writing process and the written word usually evoke form for me. I tend to approach it from an art sense. I like to challenge people’s perceptions that might go on to shape the form. For example: A job we are doing for Saxton was about beauty. There are several types of beauty. You have your ‘vogue’ beauty, which tends to be about trends and styles. Then you have the beauty that transcends these trends and styles, an essential beauty, a perception of an object. We posed this question of ‘what is beauty?’ in the piece and the great thing about it, is that it is open-ended and people need to fill in the gaps. They can interpret it whatever way they like. We like to get people to imagine it, not to tell them the idea. People don’t like graphic design, they like the idea. Design is just a verb. The richness is in the process.

L G-W / You’ve said before that Pip and Co. designers enjoy ‘stumbling across found things and recasting them into their work.’ Is it refreshing for you to almost accidentally stumble across something? Do you often photograph/collect random images/things?

AA / Nothing is accidental. Without sounding too hippy ‘If you stumble across it, you were meant to find it.’

L G-W / What do you enjoy the most about the creative process?

AA / The play. Working on something different everyday. One day you could be learning about furniture and the next you could be doing a brand for a coffee shop. It’s a great occupation.

L G-W / What do you enjoy the least about the creative process?

AA / Boredom.

L G-W / What is the biggest block to your creativity?

AA / Me, having preconceptions, my ego, being like a designer.

L G-W / Do you ever see the finished product in your head as soon as you are given the brief? If so, what do you do? Do you run with it? Or try and think of something else?

AA / If I have an idea I usually see where I could take it. I tend to feel that ‘genius is in limitations.’ The best design is often when someone can work within restrictions and not automatically need to change something, genius is those who work with what they have got and come up with a simple answer. Like saying, ‘We don’t need to change the logo, it may need to be moved over there or the colour scheme refined.’

L G-W / Do you get better at resolving briefs/solving problems with experience?

AA / Yes, definitely. You go from being really talented at school, into uni, where you find out there are a lot of other talented people, there you have to learn and demonstrate the process and become familiar with all the tools. Then when you get a job you have to adapt again and continue to learn, but you mature more with each job and it soon becomes more about expression and maybe wanting to develop personal ideas and themes.

L G-W / Do you think that graphic design is always about problem solving? If there is no problem to be solved, does it make the design less worthy?

AA / Design can’t exist without the problem. Otherwise it’s art, or decoration. In the end, the design outcome has to perform as it was designed too. If people don’t understand the message then it is highly likely that it will fail to meet its goals. I feel that the main difference between successful Graphic Art and Communication Design is that one is designed to achieve an aesthetic problem and the other designed to solve a communication problem.

L G-W / Is there a difference between the work that you do for yourself and the work that you do for a client? What is the relationship?

AA / I love photography and writing. I don’t know if people are as interested in graphic design as graphic designers are, as the intention for the design is mostly commercial. People appear to be more receptive to ideas that seem not to have any obvious commercial and marketing intentions. The personal projects on my website projects have no other motive, than the pleasure I receive from discovering the project and somehow making sense of it. The original Pip and Co. website wasn’t about Graphic Design specifically and yet thousands of people logged on and shuffled through the pages, even though the content hadn’t been updated for two or so years.

L G-W / Should design be personal? Do you think that designers should always express their personalities in their work?

AA / There is an enormous amount of graphic design in our lives, and I believe that standout design is what it is because of the people behind it. Those standout designers and studios have a distinctive style; clients approach companies because of that style.

L G-W / Have you ever done a job that you did not agree with? Or have not been proud of?

AA / I have done a lot of work that I’m not particularly proud of, work that I wouldn’t want to show anyone or put in my folio. I have done projects for products that I don’t believe in, or sometimes one just gets to the end of the project and you don’t like what has been done.

L G-W / What is your biggest fear in design?

AA/ Not having clients. It sounds obvious but it is true, If you don’t have people out there that believe in what you do and are prepared to give you work, you’re… And if you’re a designer and you don’t have clients prepared to work with you, it probably means you need to reassess your situation.

L G-W / Do you have any particular weaknesses in graphic design, something you wish you were better at?

AA / I suppose administration is not a strength. I run a sound business, but I know that I could do it better. I am always assessing administration issues. I could also manage my time better. I also wish I cared more about finicky design detailing. Being a designer that likes to keep effects to a minimum means that things like foils, varnishes and bronze rivets seem to be left out again. It’s not that I’m lazy. The dilemma for me is ‘do you waste a ton of paper for French folds, or few thousand rivets’ when the project communicates effectively without it. This process was hammered into me as a kid on the farm, farm people think about waste and excess with anything.

L G-W / How would you describe the work that you/ Studio Pip and Co. create?

AA / ‘Graphic designers to the stars, the down trodden, the well healed and far flung.’ It’s for everyone. We want to attract people that really want to communicate with people.

L G-W / Is there a formula to success for creating ‘good’ design?

AA / Listen. Read. Work

L G-W / What is your work philosophy?

AA / Listen to all ideas and options. Reading anything and everything, as much as you can, is paramount. Be prepared to work on anything and everything till you are over it and that was a month ago. As a young boy my grandfather left a dump truck, an endless supply of gloves, my brothers and I in a paddock on his farm covered in surface rocks. We were left for a week to fill up the truck with rocks time and time again. It was agony at all levels, and yet priceless.

L G-W / What would be your ultimate dream project?

AA / If I had a good voice or had vision … I’d love to do something like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Brian Eno pulled off. I admire their ability to tap into broader expressions outside making music; like characterisation, theatre, film making, art and writing. I would love to work on something at that level.

L G-W / If you were not a designer, what would you be doing?

AA / I am fixated on the idea that design is something more than graphic design. I would like to be working on projects that have the ability to help and impact upon people in positive ways. Graphic Design employs people, however its impact in everyday life is more ambient. To me a great logo doesn’t seem to be as fulfilling as building a bridge, or entertaining people or making an everyday process more efficient. In some small way I would like to help everyday people tap into creative problem solving techniques, as one of the approaches used in tackling everyday problems.

© 2005 Andrew Ashton, Studio Pip and Co. and Lucy Glade-Wright.

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Vote for our hellraising 2010 AGDA Poster entry

Shock! Designer stops moaning.

Read on, if you agree vote for our poster here, many thanks for your consideration and potential vote.

Some background…

The Australian Poster Annual was a project dreamed up by our studio when we were working with the National Design Centre in Melbourne. The first annual was launched at the first Melbourne Design Festival in 2005 – the first theme was – In light of recent events. Our response can be seen here

It was always our intention that this action is designed to inspired people with the poster as a medium to powerfully communicate big ideas, as our fellow designers in Europe, Japan and the USA do so successfully.

Our response to this brief…

We were troubled by the latest Australia Poster Annual brief, the first paragraph in particular, as it seems to be again – too design sector focused – and not aligned with big picture issues such as:

  • discovering Australian identity,
  • the idea that everyone is now a designer,
  • addressing public perception of design and their designers
  • bringing about a discovery of the ways in which Australian designers solve design problems,
  • helping clients tune into a locally developed product rather going overseas for creative outcome,
  • the proliferation of the designer idea
  • developing an Australian creativity position.

It is no secret that we feel that designers moan about on about how clients should understand design more, etc. We, as a practice, strive to find the balance between making work that works for clients, along developing a product that excites, inspires audiences and looks good.

It is concerning that our industry feels the need to write such briefs, and we believe that to bring about a positive change might be found by taking a lead from fine artists, fashion designers, chefs, coffee, wine makers, writers and musicians – who create, lure, attract, clarify, excite and challenge people with the an exciting product. Allowing then, the key drivers such as business innovation, thought leadership and cultural change will make sense to people who use it.

This situation reminds one of that old adage – quality relationships come about from inspiring respect rather than commanding respect.

This year’s AGDA Poster Annual brief is as follows…

In 2010, during Icograda Design Week in Brisbane, we have the opportunity as an industry to break stereotypes and show the Australian public that we are creative communicators, design thinkers, and that we belong to a profession that is a positive contributor to the economy and a catalyst for social change.

Following the Design Week theme of Optimism, the 2010 AGDA Poster Annual asks you to challenge the notion that design is only about beautiful things and show that design has a greater value and it is in this value that design can effect real change.

The Objective

To promote the role of graphic design as a key driver for business innovation, thought leadership and cultural change.

There are so many great and some very successful Australian designers focused upon, having a great product, client relationships and ongoing success. Is it any surprise that many of these studio’s didn’t enter a poster in this annual?

Your constructive comments; good or bad, are as always most welcome. Many thanks.

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