Back in 1970 the Dutch graphic designer Anthon Beeke created an all nude alphabet. The letter forms were made up entirely of nubile young women curled and intermingled to create the letterforms.
The project was photographed by Geert Kooiman and the whole thing was turned into a small square format book. If you can get hold of a copy today it will set you back quite a bit of money.
Beeke's 1970 original.
Beecroft's 2011 version.
In 2011 artist Vanessa Beecroft used exactly the same idea for Louis Vuitton. On seeing it Beeke protested, Louis Vuitton said that it was not aware of an infringement. This led to a legal case mounted by Beeke and eventually a settlement was made in his favour.
But as with most design cases, someone in the past has always got there before. This is an erotic nude alphabet from the Soviet Union produced in 1931 by the sculptor and artist Sergei Merkurov.
Back in the 1960’s and 70’s women were overtly objectified as a matter of course. Examples can be found in an earlier post of mine, Naked graphicshere.
FMR, standing for Franco Maria Ricci, was an international art magazine published by its namesake in Italy.
It first appeared in 1982 hailed as “the most beautiful magazine in the world”, by some and "rather pretentious" by others. But it certainly looked good, especially the covers. It was a bi-yearly, subscription only publication priced high to avoid having to take a lot of distracting advertising.
Franco Maria Ricci's intention was to present the beauty of art history and he referred to the magazine as "a sort of school for taste, for showing that the world is full of beautiful things." Publication finally ended in 2009.
Here is another in the occasional series of letters from my wise friend Michael Wolff. It's a good one.
When I hear the sound of the cash register at the beginning of The Pink Floyd’s The Dark side of the Moon album, it encourages me never to take money too seriously but, at the same time, to be absolutely clear how to deal with it. Especially when I’m explaining to my clients what they’ll need and want to pay me, and why I feel we’ll be successful working together.
The Dark Side of The Moon album cover, designed by Hipgnosis and George Hardie 1973
Listen to it, and if you can’t find it on YouTube, listen to the whole album any way you can. It’s extraordinary. Little design work today has this originality, depth, richness and precision. Find a quiet space and let it flood through your mind and inspire you. And then consider that all you pay for this wondrous experience is just a few dollars.
Now to the point of this letter – what do you think you’re worth? What do you think your value is to your clients? Do your clients see eye to eye with you on what you want to charge them? And even if they do at the start of a project, do you know how they feel about what they paid you when the project’s been completed?
I want to share something of my journey with these issues and how my attitude has evolved over time. Maybe you’ll be able to see some shortcuts and ways to avoid some of the doubts and barriers that I’ve had to overcome over many years. For many of us, especially me in the early days of my work, money was never an easy topic. I flattered myself that I could have come up with the concept of the Red Cross in ten minutes and then spent just a few hours refining it conceptually, so why should ten minutes of my time ever cost anyone a small fortune?
This sense of cautious guilt probably came from my childhood because, until my late teens, I’d never thought about how my parents earned money, how much they earned, how they budgeted, how they lived their complicated lives or paid for me and my adolescent antics. It was only as a student of architecture, having to walk up the stairs of the deepest underground station in London (20 giddying minutes) to avoid paying the fare, that I found time to ponder about money, my life and me. It was the staircase on which I started to face reality.
I lived at home, so no real costs there, and somehow I always had nearly enough money to do what I needed to do – having the liberty of living away from home and running my own financial life, was still something I managed to postpone. I moved from having poorly paid jobs to become a freelance and nascent brand – or, a variety of pictures in other people's minds based on my limited reputation, their expectations, and gossip. Being without wages or a salary, it was time to invent my own fees and my own business.
By this time, people had become more familiar with the range of prices designers charged, and yet I still felt a familiar sense of doubt and even apprehension. And at the same time as feeling doubts, I used to ask myself, why, since I was fortunate enough to be able to see how an organisation could best express itself, should I give my ideas away, or simply accept what my clients were willing to offer. And yet I still sometimes felt that I shouldn’t expect to be paid much for something that seemed to come so naturally to my mind, and I had little idea of my worth or the value of my work to my clients. It was the same for my clients. Few had much feeling for the value of design.
I remember noticing how a client paid many thousands of pounds for a car and even tens of thousands for a watch, and yet the possibility of building a valuable brand was not on their menu of desire. I failed to understand this absurdity. There weren’t so many design businesses in those days, and so it was natural that few people, neither designers nor their clients, had much idea of the value of design and what they should pay for it. It was up to the very few, courageous and commercially minded of us, to start to create markers and standards for what more serious clients would expect to pay.
This came with the birth of new companies and brands in the design world. Gradually some more ambitious individuals like FHK Henrion and some US firms, like Landor, Lippincott and Margulies, and after them, Wolff Olins in London and others began to realise that design was a serious subject and so, a serious business.
Many, fearful that raw creativity would seem irrational and even amateur to clients, started to present themselves as business people wearing business suits, making business presentations and talking about business strategy, consultancy and marketing. This masquerade continues today and, in my experience, diminishes
the likelihood of mutual trust, openness and the risk-taking that enables good design.
People can smell inauthenticity. Interestingly, when you look at the advertising business and TV shows like Mad Men, you see how this mannerism of wanting to seem business-like to their clients, while at the same time despising them, diminishes the quality of both advertising and design. This results in much of the egregious and shameful stuff that wastes billions of clients’ marketing budgets today. Nowadays, the domination of hierarchy, corporate style and titles, specious rationality, persuasive people with convincing presentations (unable to step past what they know) are all producing expensive mediocrity on a huge and global scale.
One of Bill Bernbach classic VW advertisements.
The days of the dominance of people of Bill Bernbach’s calibre have slipped behind us. At Doyle Dane Bernbach the quality of work was taken far more seriously than the various processes involved.
Two Bernbach quotes:
“In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.”
“An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.”
The same dominant creativity is true of designers like Elliot Noyes, Steve Jobs, Paul Rand, Ivan Chermayeff, Alan Fletcher, Milton Glaser and Issey Miyake, to name just a few.
Today advocacy, justification, risk avoidance and above all, apparent reason and rationality seem to be the way to justify high fees. These behavioural clichés are considered more sound than, brilliance, originality, aptness and the ability to evoke authentic emotional responses.
I hope you and the next generation of creative people will bring back those great days, and that the potential success which comes from raw intuition, empathy, honesty, artistry, unrestricted imagination and risk will be seen again as more valuable than the reassuring and comforting process-driven management of today.
Now to the meat. Authenticity is the quality that has the most value for me looking back through the whole of my life and my career. Authenticity is the guide. Authenticity will show you how to make money work best for both you and your clients so both feel expressed, fulfilled and enriched. Sometimes I used to feel that competing for work was a necessary process of seduction, but soon I realised that most seductions contain the seeds of destruction and that relationships built on seduction rarely endure.
I try, when setting my price, to see it from a client’s perspective, especially if competition is involved. What’s most likely to be going on in a client’s head? Is it: who can do the best for me and take me beyond my expectations? Or is it: who’s the cheapest? If the person buying already has a price in their head, they probably also have an idea of what they’re expecting and what they feel the value is. Many people like this have an insufficient grasp of the value of design. Stay away from them.
Today, if ‘design blind’ companies, small or large, haven’t learnt from Apple, IKEA and all the others who’ve worked hard and invested in design to achieve great brands (take a look at the website of bestmadeco.com) they’ll be a waste of your time. Leave them to the piranhas or blatantly commercial designers who claim to bring effective design solutions that are ‘ready-made’ and creatively disengaged. ‘Conformist design’ cannot be creative.
When, in Wolff Olins, we knew we were being compared to others, there were nine clear principles that I discovered, which we used and which have always guided me.
Never second-guess what our competitors might do as a basis for our competitive strategy. Pentagram will ‘Pentagram’, Landor will ‘Landor’ and a competing individual will ‘individual’. All we can do is to ‘Wolff Olins’. Our only competitor is our own past performance.
Don’t base your fees on time, base them on value and on the truth. You may need six hours, six days, six weeks or six months to find out what you need to know to start thinking, creating and constructing a programme, but the most valuable part of that, to both you and your client, will be the few minutes of inspired creativity.
3. Share all your ideas and co-create, but only make one recommendation. Never say, “it could be one of three.” (Why not three hundred?) Recommend from single-minded conviction.
Humility is a good friend and arrogance a pitfall.
Never bad-mouth a competitor.
Remember that it’s the client who chooses. Respect that.
Be as thoroughly yourself, or your brand, as you can.
Be open and honest, be willing not to know, be confident about your own value and the value you intend to bring to your client.
Don’t obsess about winning or losing. You can’t win them all. Losing can be useful.
Never blame, always learn.
First bear in mind what you or your business needs to maintain a reasonable profitability – what needs to be earned each month. You can’t afford to forget you’re a business. Then think intelligently and honestly about the value of what you intend to bring to your clients. Don’t be bashful.
If you can create empathy and straightforward feelings of mutual trust as soon as you meet, you can even discuss this with your clients. Then, as you fluctuate from low to high figures and oscillate back and forth with all sorts of justifications, a figure will appear in your mind. Trust it!
In the end your success depends on your talents, your sense of self-worth, your confidence, how you gauge the value of your brand, big or small, taking care of the quality of your relationships with your clients, and, in my view, your spirit, your integrity and the scale and meaning of what drives your ambitions.
Even 50 years on I still find Twen amazingly fresh. It's late Art Director Willy Fleckhaus (1925-1983) was at one with the editorial page, few have bettered him. I love these two 'in you face' spreads.
This is a number 38 London bus. I have been using it for the past 40 years. I call it 'the magic bus' because it is plentiful and local.
Often if I am stuck for an idea I'll leave the studio and go for a walk or jump on a 38. I love people watching and buses are great for that especially on the top deck. I jump on and off whenever it takes my fancy. I believe that everything is a creative opportunity and this morning I spotted two teenage Japanese girls looking like a living artwork. I had to snap them. From the back...
and the front...
In the middle of photographing (it took place at the top end of Museum Street), a woman appeared and said, "You can't photograph here". I replied, "But this is a public place, why can't I photograph?". She then said, "I can't tell you that", and disappeared into the building with me shouting after her, "What are you, MI5 or something?". London can be a crazy place sometimes.
I thanked the two girls and in true Japanese fashion they both bowed gracefully and we said our goodbyes. I love the Japanese.
Very sad news that graphic designer and illustrator Dennis Bailey has died.
An early student project from 1953
He studied at West Sussex College of Art in the late 1940s and was one of the post-war intakes at the Royal College of Art and along with RCA contemporaries David Gentleman, Raymond Hawkey, Len Deighton and Alan Fletcher made a considerable contribution to the British graphic design explosion of the 1960's.
In the early 1960s, Dennis collaborated on film projects and lived for a time in Paris working as Design and Art Editor on ‘Olympia Review’.
Penguin Books 1974
He designed and illustrated many book covers and editorial for Penguin Books, The Listener, The Economist, Nova, New Statesman, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the British Council, the Arts Council, and the British Medical Journal. He also created stamps for Royal Mail.
Illustrated and designed by Dennis Bailey for Royal Mail in 1963
Town magazine 1966
Catalogue for the Arts Council, 1961
From 1964 – 1966 he was Art Director of the iconic Town magazine commissioning an array of creative talent of the period including Don McCullin, David Bailey, and writer Tom Wolfe.
Between1971 to 1980 he taught at Chelsea School of Art. In 1980 he was made a Royal Designer for Industry.
I will remember him for his beautiful natural ability to draw with ease.
They say that travel broadens the mind. It also feeds the imagination, delights the eye and, in my case, blew my mind.
For a graphic designer, the Japanese flag is probably a perfect example of a stripped-back, minimal symbol that expresses an idea perfectly.
I have recently returned from my first visit to Japan taking in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. I have travelled to many places, but Japan completely overwhelmed me in so many ways.
First off, it was the people. The British are renowned for their courtesy, but the Japanese far surpass that. They are the most well-mannered, gracious and law-abiding race I have ever encountered. I was amazed and very moved by it. There is a natural modesty in their behaviour that is utterly endearing.
And they take enormous pride in whatever they do. They live by a set of rules that are centred on thinking of others around them.
Now this is going to sound like a promotional commercial for Japan, but it is exactly how I experienced it.
Me along with my daughter-in-law on one of the immaculate trains.
The trains, buses and taxis are immaculate. There is no tipping. Everything is punctual. People queue in line, and no one seems to shout.
Not a soul on the crossing.
No one eats on public transport. No one crosses the road unless the light is green.
If you have a cold in Japan, you wear a mask to avoid spreading it to others – so considerate. Can you imagine people doing that in the UK?
While staying with my daughter-in-law’s family, we visited a local ‘onsen’: this is a natural hot spring bathhouse. There is an amazing washing ritual before taking the hot spring.
It involves sitting in a little stall, scrubbing copiously and ladling masses of water to rinse off. During the process, various soaps and shampoos are topped up by female attendants – a little disconcerting for a European.
The lavatories in Japan are fantastic. Most WCs are electronically controlled to include a heated seat that lifts and closes automatically on entry. When you are finished, various jets of water spring forth strategically aimed, and all is topped off with a warm air dryer. A delightful hands-free experience.
Before entering a house or restaurant, you remove your shoes. Here in the UK, we can step in spit, mud, vomit and dog droppings and after tersely wiping on a door mat or not, we trail it around the house. Japanese visitors to this country must be revolted. And when you go to the loo in a Japanese house, you wear shoes specifically for that purpose.
Wherever you shop, service always starts and finishes with a bow, along with much smiling and thanking. It is so wonderful and always seemed genuine to me.
There is far more uniform wearing in Japan, and these are worn with great pride and are always immaculate.
Penny loafers abound.
School girls have a strict uniform code consisting of white sailor tops and navy skirts or tartan kilts with white shirts and navy socks, and all seem to wear American-style penny loafers – the latter being, I guess, the influence of the US occupation during 1945 to 1952, along with their baseball, golf, Coca-Cola, and workwear.
Ready for work in orderly fashion.
Office workers wear a crisp, white shirt and a two-piece black suit for women and navy or dark grey suits, a white shirt and a tie for men, and always with a briefcase.
Me in Tokyo
There is an overwhelming use of neon and animated digital advertising on poster sites in cities looking like scenes from Blade Runner. Sound too is widely used: jingles, cutesy melodies, speech and bird songs assault the ears on the underground, on the streets and in the shops.
And the Japanese love little cartoon characters: they pop up everywhere in a very kitsch, child-like way that is very alien to what we have in the UK.
The crime rate is relatively low in Japan: guns are illegal and the much-coveted ceremonial swords have to be registered with the police. Capital punishment is still carried out in Japan. You can leave your mobile or laptop on the table while getting a coffee and it will still be there when you get back – do that in London and it would all be gone in seconds. And there are also baskets placed beside tables to put your bag in to keep them clean. Traffic and pedestrian police are a pleasure to watch, using a kind of illuminated rod in a series of graceful moves to conduct people and traffic.
Making in Japan is a craft tradition, and there is much evidence that it is still supreme. Their pottery, fashion, furniture, lighting, flower arrangement and gift wrapping are all stunning.
I had the great pleasure of visiting many of the traditional temple gardens in Kyoto, and they are breathtakingly beautiful.
In a Japanese garden, everything has a meaning and is painstakingly put together to echo nature.
Bamboo is used for fences, gates and building materials, making everything in harmony with its surroundings.
My granddaughter looks out.
Traditional tea houses are often to be found in the gardens, where you sit on the floor, take tea and look out onto the tranquil surroundings. You can clearly see where the inspiration for modernist architecture came from. Japanese buildings are all about simple function, beautifully formed.
Beauty in everything.
Being a vegetarian, it was a little tricky for me, but the presentation of Japanese food makes the European nouvelle cuisine chefs, with their concocted presentations, look frankly pathetic. Food presentation in Japan really is an art form. Restaurants tend to be on the upper floors in city centres rather than at street level, where rents are far higher. Generally, they tend to be small and intimate. With space being a premium, the Japanese are experts in making the maximum out of the minimum.
Rubbing shoulders with traditional Japan is a young, energetic creative community designing and making products, graphics, furniture and fashion items that fit harmoniously into all that has gone before, retaining that special Japanese aesthetic.
The Japanese still don’t allow immigration, and I can only assume that is why their customs and culture are so intact and not diluted by other cultures. With 126 million people packed in this group of islands, this is understandable.
However, Japan has an ageing population that is gradually outnumbering the younger population, and this will create an issue in the future with the increasing budget for caring for the elderly, so immigration may need to happen to maintain the workforce required to generate income.
Was there a downside in all of this? Well, just two odd things: they still allow smoking in restaurants, which was a bit of a shock. And bicycles aren’t allowed on the main roads in cities, so they ride on the pavement, weaving in and out of pedestrians, so you have to be mindful of that.
On my last evening in Osaka at my daughter in law's home, her mother gave me the full tea ceremony. It was so special.
Arriving back in the UK and sitting on the Piccadilly line, I was instantly depressed by the spectacle of a messy carriage, with people speaking too loudly on their mobiles with others stuffing food into their mouths. Such a depressing contrast from the behaviour of the Japanese.
Japan’s impact on me had a profound effect, and I will definitely be returning. I sincerely hope that the Japanese retain their unique, delightful character, and all I can say is that if a set of rules can make such a gracious race, let’s introduce some rules here.
Visual post script
Some additional memories...
above and below, loo heaven.
I hope that this has given you just a little taste of the magic that is Japan.