Recently D&AD dropped by my studio to record me reminiscing about the early days of the annual, following my criticism about its potential future.
Happily the conversation developed onto a slightly more interesting topic - the stylistic shifts in graphics over the years. I cited Push Pin Studios as one of the major influences of the late 60 and early 70s. London was Push Pin mad.
And on that topic this was one of my first jobs accepted into this copy of the D&AD annual…
And this was my page...
well, double page spreadactually. How generous they were with space in those days, only in black and white though. Now put your sunglasses on, here is the actual job in glorious colour…
Yes, I know, embarrassing influenced by Messrs Push Pin. Well, we all have to start somewhere, and I have always maintained that if you are going to copy, do it from the best.
This is what I looked like at exact time of doing that job in 1967…
And if you can bear it, you can hear me talking about those early times and see some of Push Pin's work by clicking here
You would have thought that I’d insulted the Queen. But no, I simply critisied that bible of D&AD, ‘the book’. I had suggested that a book form was no longer fit for that particular task. A Digital format would be better. My thoughts migrated to Creative Review, D&AD, a plethora of designer’s blogs and Tweets and became a catalyst for a lively debate on print vs. digital.
This got me thinking. There can be few areas of our creative world that haven’t been profoundly affected by the digital age. The traditional ‘craft ‘based disciplines have been displaced, jettisoned or revolutionised by digital; artwork, typesetting, retouching, photography, printing, illustration, and moving image.
The same applies to architecture, engineering, product design and textiles. Television, radio, phones, music, navigation and increasingly books and magazines are all now delivered digitally. Soon most cinemas will be projecting digitally. No more vans ferrying reels of celluloid. The old time projectionist will be ‘let go’ for space saving simple digital projectors. No scratches, sound distortion, colour problems. Perfect every time. The shooting of movies is increasingly on HD digital. Cinematographers, like their stills counterparts, have had to embrace the digital form. Film stock will become a quirky niche item akin to letterpress printing. And the revival of vinyl, brought about by DJs, has now been packed back into their weathered flight boxes. The convenience of digital is biting.
If all this sounds like a lament for the past it is not. Unlike many of my contemporaries, who take pride in the fact that they can’t even turn a computer on let alone use one, I have embraced the digital world. I find it odd that there is often a reaction against it. At best it is ill informed and at worst it is just nostalgic claptrap. Much of what we love from the past is viewed through rose tinted spectacles. On close inspection many of those old graphic favourites have a low Tech crudity, which may have charm, but they don’t hold up to the exactitudes of today’s digital standards.
But to the new generation of graphic designers, bottle fed on digital, our analog past has a fascination and a nostalgia for something they never experienced, hence the increasing popularity of letterpress and screen printing. Getting your hands dirty in nasty oil based inks feels like you really are crafting it.
Here is a group of young creative things from 1978 having fun at the then Paddington Institute. For a mear £2.85 you could sign up for a whole term. Those were the days.
My own teenage daughter has resurrected my old filofax, Pentax SLR and iPod classic (yes even early digital has a ‘cool’ nostalgia) they all have an eccentric allure. And it has ever been thus. Plundering the past is a way of creating a new today.
Thanks to the digital age trawling our graphic heritage has never been easier. The proliferation of graphic geeks has seen sharing stuff snowball. With sites like FFFFound!, Flicker and the myriad of blogs available. What would have taken months or years to unearth in the analog age is available at the click of a mouse.
This instant gratification has a more profound affect. National graphic styles, once so distinctive; Swiss, Dutch, British, French, Scandinavian and American etc are diminishing. We can now see exactly what everyone is doing as they finish it wherever they are in the world. This has democratised those old nationalistic trends. But in turn it has enriched and created more variety to the 21st century graphic landscape.
But, there is one thing that digital can’t provide and that’s the ‘idea’. That is a God given thing.
Cartoon by the great R.O.Blechman
Artical by Mike Dempsey. Reprinted from Design Week April 2011
For those of you who read and enjoyed my three-part post, Mountain Man last year, I have a further twist to the fascinating story of the late, reclusive Swiss graphic designer, Oskar Altherr. If you haven’t read the original posts you may like to, in order to make sense of this final episode.
But if you have already well, here is the postscript...
Oskar Altherr at various stages of his long life
London February 2011
At the beginning of February, a package arrived from Switzerland. It contained a memory stick taped to an accompanying letter. There was also a separate letter in which I learned of the sad news that my friend Christian (not his real name) – instrumental in arranging the only meeting I had ever had with Oskar Altherr – had died of a heart attack following a fall. The letter was from his daughter. She explained that while going through his effects, she had found the memory stick and letter addressed to me, which had never been posted.
I had no idea that Christian had a daughter; he had never mentioned her or any other children for that matter. Later that day, I phoned her to get some more information about his death. But in the event I wished I hadn’t, because what was revealed was terribly sad.
In the previous February, she had received a call from the police. They told her that her father had been found dead in his room. He had fallen and hit his head on the edge of the table, and the shock must have brought on a heart attack. He had been there for at least a week before the discovery. She was clearly distressed but continued to talk to me about him in that tragic, rather guilt-ridden way that only the bereaved can, when they feel lost. At the end of the conversation, I replaced the receiver, feeling deeply moved for both her and Christian.
I looked again at the letter that the memory stick had been attached to. It read…
“My dear friend,
I have enclosed a recording that I made when we both visited Oskar in 2009. I never told you that I had snatched quite a bit of your conversation with him. If he had ever discovered that I had done this... well, I think you know how he would have felt. But I wanted to do something to commemorate his extraordinary life. So I have embarked on making a radio documentary.
I have sent the attached audio segment in the hope that you will agree to let me include it in the programme. It is Oskar at his most touching and original: a true individual with great integrity in this increasingly egotistical, celebrity-driven, mad world of ours.
It has been almost a year since we last spoke – I blame myself. Time slips by so fast, and I have to admit I have been not so well of late. But I do intend to surprise you one of these days by turning up in London – my ageing hip permitting.
He never got to London, and the letter, dated 20 November 2010, was never sent. The only reason that the letter got to me was because it was in Christian’s pocket when Helga collected his clothes from the mortuary.
Had Christian managed to complete his documentary, I know it would not only have been fascinating but that it would have finally put Altherr on the graphic map, where he surely belongs.
Here is the small recorded fragment from Christian’s never-to-be-completed radio documentary…