March 2011

Circus, circus, circus, it’s one design circus

A circus poster is something one did as a college assignment. One found these Australian circus posters and thought what makes them so good is the person who created probably wasn’t qualified in design at university. They just made them for a day, or so, and got on with the next job – a hardware flyer or a betting form.

These images were found at an exhibition called Wild things : Life Beyond the Stage, at the Victorian Arts Centre Click here for more

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Spot the difference, past vs present, symbols vs signs

UK Coat of Arms – Lithographic rendering date unknown, of numerous renderings

Vector computer drawing

US Great Seal – Lithograph of 1885 design

Vector computer drawing

Australian Coat of Arms – granted by King George V, 19 September 1912

1912 detail

Vector computer drawing

Hearldry is a graphic expression from the past which has contributed to contemporary branding. A somewhat quaint remnant of hearldry is the coat of arms, which now seems to brand a country, province, along with flags and seals.

This post came about from the research process we undertook in making a coat of arms for a new brand. This is not our first coat of arms, and it is always a pleasure to dig around the internet finding work from the past. One is always struck by the eye, skill, detail, quirk and awkwardness loaded in hearldry.

Our latest journey was filled with thrills and disappointment, all centred around the Australian Coat of Arms. One has always admired Australia’s elaborate 1912 rendering of the arms – The scratchy fur and feathers, the Art Nouveau flourishes, and the tangle of wreathed wattle – a complex, confident, yet simple rendering with a distinct sense of place.

We dug a little more and discovered an unremarkable vector rendering (line based drawing), on wikipedia, representing Australia’s contemporary Coat of Arms. What we found was alarming, everything of this new form was troubling (with respect to it’s creators) – it’s a rendering in our option which simply lacks the creative skill and artfulness worthy to represent a prominent country. Thinking that we were generalising, we then compared this outcome with similar official  renderings developed by other countries. After encountering numerous well rendered contemporary coat of arms, we wondered why an innovative country like Australia, with its infinite wealth of creative people, has an administration lacking the foresight to have a contemporary visual in place, which at the very least reflects the values of the 1913 rendering in a contemporary context. We feel that this situation, yet again demonstrates the space in which Australia occupies, in terms of creativity and artistic expression – their are other more important things to worry about like sport, sport, trade.

At this point it is easy to launch into a mad creative person’s rant, so we have taken the liberty to act like any good colonial citizen – we sort reference from distant shores, collected samples, and allowed our readers the opportunity to compare and judge for yourselves.

If your are reading Prime Minister Gillard and Minister Crean – Minister for the Arts, we invite you to compare too. Australia at the very least deserves to have a contemporary coat of arms created by a highly skilled Australian designer / illustrator, worthy of all the innovation, skill and know how that often litters our political soundscape – a new contemporary Coat of Arms for Australia is an opportunity to make a significant cultural gesture for the rest of the world to see.

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A recipe for a sweet breakfast time

Soft Andy’s Crappy Stoned Fruit Jam

Allow two hours to prepare.

Apart obvious bowel related ideas and gags, have you ever wondered why grannies buy old fruit?

Apricots lightly boiling

Go to your local fruiter, ask for the discounted crappy stone fruit seconds. Pick any stone fruit, preferably the non cling stone or semi cling. i.e.  Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Plums. In a determined yet quiet way, pick the eyes out of the box, go for blemished, sad looking, not too bruised, or brown looking pieces. Make sure you pick one stone variety only, and sort one to one and a half  kilograms of fruit depending on the quality of the fruit.

Prepare the following ingredients and object.
Take home, wash in cold water, clean, halve and trim away any bruised or brown looking segments. Do not skin. One should aim to end up with one kilogram of prepared fruit. Depending upon how sweet you like your jam measure up 400 to 500 gsm of castor sugar, remove the zest of one lemon, extract the juice of one lemon. Take one vanilla bean pod and cut into 4 to 6 strips.
Wash and sterilise 600 to 1000mL a swing top glass jar with a rubber seal.

The cooking.
In a medium to large, heavy sauce pan, on a low heat, add your fruit, sugar, zest, lemon juice, and vanilla bean. Gently mix in all of your ingredients until sugar is dissolved to a melted ice cream consistency. No turn up the heat to medium, keep mixing and bring the mixture to a gentle boil – a foam like opaque tint of the fruit with appear and then give way to a darker liquid. Lightly boil for 10 to 20 minutes – depending upon the hardness of fruit. The fruit will reduced now to a thick, chunky liquid. Now bring the liquid to a light bubble for 20 to 40 minutes, depending upon how chunky, thick you like your jam.

Note 01.
Juicy fruits like plums may need more time to simmer to achieve a thick mixture, you might want to source up to 25% to 50% more fruit to allow for liquid lost during the simmering, check sugar during the simmer to compensate the tart taste.

Note 02.
Add a little peeled apple or pear for texture and taste mix ups. Again check sugar during the simmer, add sugar to compensate the tart taste.

The storage.
Once you find your jam’s consistency, take off the heat, let the mixture cool for around two to three minutes, then empty with care, the hot jam into your glass jar. A rubber spatula is very handy for pot scraping. Seal and put in your fridge – not before you have dropped some bread in the toaster for sampling.

Ingredients and object

  • One kilogram of prepared fruit – Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Plums.
  • 400 to 500 gsm of castor sugar
  • The zest of one lemon
  • The juice of one lemon
  • One vanilla bean pod
  • 1 x 600 to 1000 mL a swing top glass jar with a rubber seal.

Enjoy! As they say in all the right places.
– – –

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Trying not to fall through the cracks: thinking about design in Australia

1100 words

So you’re a designer working in Australia and you want to stay sane and fulfilled? Then be prepared to be at the edges of the main event.

Standing before me on a crisp early autumn eve is Robert Forster from cult 80s pop act The Go-Betweens, resplendent in his fine grey suit. He has come a long way since killing time in Darlinghurst in the early 1980s, writing his spirited and off-the-cuff songs. Tonight Forster is riding solo, performing to a room of fifty or so people, with a finely tuned acoustic guitar, a bottle of water and memories. Thinking about Forster and his amazing career made me think about that thing that creative Australian people seem to do en masse: find their feet in Australia’s cities, before leaving our shores, receive their rightful accolades, and returning once again to Australia and relative obscurity.

Thinking about the aforementioned creative Australian making work, I wonder what the truth is for Australians hexed with the creative bug. This creative life is filled great expression, but if you scratch beneath the surface of interesting spaces and dramatic public expressions, the life of making work and developing a creative product in Australia seems lacks meaningful support, fostering and celebration in the wider community. Graphic design in Australia is funded by membership, and industry sponsorship unlike the arts which have government bodies such as Arts Australia, Vic Arts

Australia is one of the world’s great distant outposts. As the world’s highs and lows seem to shake, shudder, triumph and march forward, here in Australia we seem to have our own microcosm of life, culture, commerce and beliefs. Australia is the land of strange animals, poisons bugs, big skies, big rocks, sandy beaches, the pub, the boomerang, sporting heroes, the bush people, and long haul flights.

In 2002 I made short film that ask a variety of people on the street – What is graphic design? In the eight hours of raw footage, we were lucky to have five minutes of real answers. It was a process that made a great impression, which in the years since has invited further probing. What cultures have prominent design cultures? At what level of society do they exist? I discovered that when you mention conversation a German, French, Italian, American, Japanese, Danish, English design people will recall a raft of products, brands and even designers. I also discovered an absence of products, brands and designers when the query of Australian design was made. I must impress that my hunches here are not backed by substantive evidence, never-the-less I am under the impression that Australia is barely regarded by non designers, normal people, either nationally or internationally, for its design approach or creativity or as a place that produces excellent design and fosters innovation. If you think that this is statement in sweeping, simply task yourself to ask a person on the street – What is a Australian design product or designers they can immediately recall? Then ask what is an Americian, Italian, French, English design product, or designers they can immediately recall? It is no wonder why so many of Australia’s biggest brand and communication design briefs are often awarded to large US, or European, based design firms.

After years of producing design work in Australia, and talking to Australian designers, I believe there is an underlying tension about what it is we are producing. As contributors we are not getting what we want out of the work. It may well be a problem the world over, but it seems to be a struggle for Australian designers to make the work that they want while still having clients and audiences respond to the outcomes.

After observing and speaking with the overseas tourists that I have come in contact with, I believe that the source of this tension comes from an idea that Australia is not a culture underpinned or directly informed by creative expression. For many years I have entertained designers from all corners of the world. Typically over drinks, a meal or a tour of Sydney or Melbourne, I ask these visitors: “So, what are the things you want to do while you’re in Australia?” It doesn’t matter if the designer is American, Korean, German, French, Spanish, or Japanese, the most popular responses are always that they want to hold a Koala, see the Great Barrier Reef, and see Indigenous art. Is it any wonder that so few Australian designers are invited to speak overseas about their design expression?

Australia as a culture does not adequately recognize or value creative expression, and this, combined with the development of marketing, the rise of inexpensive graphics computers and a new lifestyle that fosters the idea that anyone can create and solve creative problems, is what fuels the tension in Australian creativity.

So Australia’s creatives leave our shores in droves and on the whole we are not a destination known for our creativity. There are a lot of factors that make it difficult for creativity to become the prominent part of our cultural make up that it deserves to be and I believe that the current state of creativity in Australia calls for a range of intelligent, bold and compelling approaches from and by designers and creative types.

We as creative people need to set ourselves the task of communicating who we are and what we do in more compelling ways. Some of us are able to tell this story through our work, yet many of us need to develop a fresh layer around what we do that connects our approach and output with the outside world.

The most alarming thing about the status quo is that most influential voice commenting on Australian designers and our work are journalists and members of the public. In their hands don’t expect a balanced and informed opinion. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne commenting on a recent brand change is a favourite. He announced in 2009 that the City of Melbourne changed the logo because the incumbent “was a bit daggy”. Another insightful critique comes from a blogger commenting on motoring website about the change of the Vic Roads brand: “As far as I can see, the old Vic Roads logo was FINE. It’s not like VicRoads have to compete with other road authorities for our business, we’re stuck with these retards, so why do they have to appear fresh and modern? Basically they’ve just wasted my rego fee on a graphic design company, change management consultants, signwriters and printing like $50,000 worth of stationery. I’d love to see the budget for the logo change but Vic Roads is staying tight lipped about it. What a complete effing waste of my effing money! It’s a government department, they will never, ever, ever be fresh and modern in any sense of the word.”

I believe that the strange state of Australian communication design requires a radical response and I suppose that is why I embraced an existing Australian icon and dressed in Koala suit to present an Australian design story to an international audience in China. At the same conference (ironically before our presentation) Omar Vulpinari of Fabrica closed in his presentation stating that ideas are often communicated to an audience through their own clichés, clichés that they understand. We had the audience dancing, clapping and cheering in the end and over the past few months many design conversations and opportunities have come about from that one crazy clichéd gesture.

A way to start the process of critiquing and commenting on our own work is to attempt to understand and comprehend perceptions about design that are held within the broader community. And recognize and understand how other caches of similar creative people communicate their ideas and output – be it chefs, writers, musicians or fine artists. All these creative people are in control of the messages they present and in effect can shape the public’s perceptions. Design, we tell our clients, assists communicate ideas, products and brands, and it may be this very approach that we need to apply to our own image and products.

Andrew Ashton, Studio Pip and Co. March 2010

With thanks to Brita Frost for editing and proofing advice.

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