Gold was one of America's best known graphic designers for his many movie poster designs over the past 70 years. He clocked up over 2,000 during the 20th and 21st century. He set the graphic style agenda for film industry promotion.
Here is just a small sampling from his hefty output...
From left to right: Lara Rossi, Michael Gould and Romola Garai dissect the play. / Photographed by Manuel Harlan
An empty stage. A member of the earlier audience returns to retrieve her forgotten bag. She is about to leave when a man appears on stage. He strikes up a conversation. “Did you like the play?” he asks. There follows a spiralling diatribe from the woman, attacking the play and deconstructing the very nature of audience-pleasing theatre. She viciously dissects not only the play she has seen but also its director – it becomes apparent that it is him. What he hasn’t recalled is that he had met this feisty young feminist six years earlier. It followed a talk he had given on writing for the theatre to an eager gathering of students. He’d taken her for a drink and had tried to seduce her. Fuelled with anger at his vague memory of this, she continues to lay into him and his world of theatre and its predictable audience in their desire to have productions with a conventional beginning, middle and end, along with a pleasing resolution. The play’s writer, Ella Hickson, could have easily been taking a pop at last night Almeida’s turnout: predominantly white, of a certain age (so, I slotted in there perfectly) and all probably Waitrose shoppers. After the fantastic cut and thrust of this opening salvo, beautifully written by Hickson and blazingly delivered by Lara Rossi to a battle-weary Samuel West, the action suddenly stops. What we thought was the play turns out to be two actors rehearsing a play, now joined on stage by writer Romola Garai and director Michael Gould in a Q&A to dissect the performance. And so starts the real play – or does it?
Samual West and Romola Garai and their tempestuous relationship. / Photographed by Manuel Harlan
Ella Hickson’s new work, in every sense of the word, plays with the audience in a series of events both in and out of the play. We were presented with the internal struggle of the writer wanting to stay true to the purity of her idea of cajoling the audience into thinking about important issues, in order to make a difference, and not having her work sullied by external forces, be that a tempting money offer for a screen adaptation of her work or submitting to the dictatorial views of a domineering director (Michael Gould). The play also focuses on sexual politics, feminism and women’s place in the world of theatre – are they just eye candy while all the men do the important talking or mere sensual pickings for men of power? It is right on the money in the current ‘Me Too’ climate.
In a rather poetic moment in the play Romola Garai and Lara Rossi finding more than solace in each other. / Photographed by Manuel Harlan
This four-hander is a tour de force for the actors involved, and Ella Hickson’s writing and Blanche McIntyre’s direction certainly ruffled the feathers of the Almeida audience, particularly in a scene where the two female protagonists, now settled into a lesbian relationship, bring each other to orgasm. This was accompanied by very prolonged noisy cries of pleasure. As I scanned the audience, there was a lot of nervous shuffling and coughing in the air from the grey-haired members. Was this Ella Hickson having her revenge? And it all ended unexpectedly, as I knew it would. A great piece of theatre from an almost totally female creative and production team.
Being designers, we like to think that our work can have some sort of benefit to society, no matter how small, rather than harm it. It might be a book cover that encouraged someone to pick up a book to read or a poster that moved another to attend a music concert or film. But, occasionally, you come across something really special that combines wonderful creative thinking and design and is of real benefit to society – and you just wished you had done it.
I spent the bank holiday with my son Joe and my ten-year-old granddaughter Yoko. Joe produced this wonderful series of workbooks called ‘Mrs Wordsmith’. It had been recommended for Yoko by her schoolteacher. A passing glance at this little learning kit really intrigued me. Digging a little deeper, I was mightily impressed.
As a child, I struggled with what we now know as dyslexia. Back in the 1950s, the phrase used was “you are a slow learner”, or more unkindly “you are thick”. That is why I was constantly drawing – something I could do with ease. It became my world and a form of expression.
So, studying ‘Mrs Wordsmith’, I realised that it would have been a godsend to the likes of me back in the dark days of the 1950s. It’s a simple, clear method of learning a vocabulary of the 10,000 most academically relevant words. And yes, that could be presented very boringly, if you think about how this kind of information used to be taught. Mrs Wordsmith, however, is fantastically inventive and is overwhelmingly aided by the brilliantly energetic illustrations by Craig Kellman, Mrs Wordsmith’s Art Director and the award-winning artist behind the films Madagascar and Hotel Transylvania, along with his team.
Through a £2 million crowdfunding investment, Mrs Wordsmith was launched in 2016 by Sofia Fenichell. The idea came to her one night when helping her own children to improve their writing skills.
The whole system is based on solid academic and scientific research. It builds on transforming the way the young learn, retain and use the kinds of words that deliver literacy and academic success. A big part of this is the brilliant visual presentation, based on engaging the young reader with intelligent storytelling humour. So, looking becomes a big part of the process to trigger the answers to the questions posed. For example, take a word like ‘deflated’. This is how Craig Kellman visually expresses it.
There are hundreds of these wonderfully witty illustrations by Craig Kellman.
Humour and visuals are a proven way to help with effective learning, boosting children’s involvement and retention. Mrs Wordsmith’s words are arresting because they are so visually stimulating.
So, for any of you parents keen to promote your children’s learning skills (ages 7–11), I would highly recommend this imaginative scheme. I only wished that Mrs Wordsmith had been around when I was a kid.
For more on Mrs Wordsmith (aka Sofia Fenichell) click here.
And here is a highly enthusiastic teacher praising the programme. click here.
I think of brands rather like pop groups. On the one hand, you had The Beatles: a collection of individuals with a common goal, born out of originality, vision, talent and passion. On the other, you had The Monkees: a manufactured, derivative group, put together as a commercial proposition. Unoriginal, manipulated and visionless.
The John Lewis Partnership, formed in 1864, is a great British brand. Because of its unique staff ownership, it has always engendered trust, friendliness and exceptional customer service. With its long-lived mantra “never knowingly undersold”, people still flock to the flagship store in Oxford Street for the ‘John Lewis experience’. Because of the partnership ethos, people believe that all the staff are singing from the same song sheet because they have a written constitution with a set of principles to sing.
The late Ingvar Kamprad
One global company that has stuck rigidly to its founding principles is Ikea. This is very much due to the close attention paid by its creator Ingvar Kamprad, who started the company in the 1940s; he ensured that his philosophy permeated throughout the staff, wherever they were located. Even after he retired, his values remained the guiding principles: “create a better everyday life for the majority of people”.
He insisted that his employees’ behaviour was 100% focused on meeting customers’ expectations. This is eulogised by all the staff working for Ikea. Even though Kamprad was wildly rich, he continued to live modestly and travelled on public transport to save money. A rare example of a founder actually ‘living the brand’.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Interestingly, private-sector companies are often started by unconventional, enthusiastic individuals with a passion to express their ideas, void of the artifice of manufactured hype and PR, and they are often successful. In 1978, two twenty-something best friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, started a homemade ice cream company in Burlington, Vermont – they called it Ben & Jerry’s. Their wholesome product was a big hit with the locals. People just fell in love with it and them. Word spread, and everyone wanted the delicious, no-additive product. Keeping close to the coalface and their customers, Ben & Jerry’s added evermore recipes to its growing range. The best publicity, word of mouth, spread far and wide. A Ben & Jerry’s poster read “Business has a responsibility to give back to the community” from Ben and “If it’s not fun, why do it?” from Jerry. The company grew, shared profits with staff, gave money to charity and sourced suppliers with similar values.
Innocent's Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright
In 1999, three former university friends, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, sold their homemade smoothies from a stall at a music festival. They put up a sign asking people if they should give up their jobs to make smoothies: they had a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No’. When they totalled up the results, they quit their jobs. After being turned down by every bank, venture capitalist and business angel in London, they sent out a flurry of letters to the rich and famous. Their prayers were answered and financial backing was in the bag. And so Innocent was started. Following a similar path to Ben & Jerry’s, they sold locally, monitoring people’s views on their smoothies. They had little cars painted black and white to resemble cows and other cars covered in grass, buzzing around London.
A grassed up Innocent van.
The very first McDonald’s
Both Ben & Jerry’s and Innocent followed in the footsteps of Dick and Mac McDonald, who set up the very first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, California, in 1940. They made it a success by working their socks off, and they were obsessive about the quality of their products. But that all changed when a young salesman, Ray Kroc, talked them into franchising their burger bar idea. Against their better judgement, the brothers were hoodwinked by Kroc into corner cutting. They tried to stop the expansion but were outsmarted by Kroc’s lawyers, who turned the whole enterprise into a real estate company with Kroc as CEO.
Whenever successful enterprises like the above three stories pop up, the corporate sharks begin to circle, clutching money in their teeth. Ben & Jerry’s was bought but Unilever and Innocent was bought and is controlled by The Coca-Cola Company – not exactly sympatico with Innocent’s wholesome aims. The moment this happens, things change. A whole host of interested parties will be in the room: unsympathetic management focused on cost-cutting (so the quality of the product declines); hungry investors looking for a good return on their investment; and so on.
My personal liking is for what I call ‘pure brands’: my Beatles, if you like. Here are two that I have a lot of respect for.
Classic simplicity of Margaret Howell clothes.
The first is the fashion brand Margaret Howell. As a young fine art graduate, Margaret was rummaging through a jumble sale stall when she came upon a vintage shirt. So taken was she by its clearly handmade quality, something missing in mass production, that she had an epiphany. She would make shirts to that quality and find a market for them, believing that there would be others like her who would respond to quality. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Margaret’s classically designed quality clothes are still made to last, just like that jumble sale shirt. You will also find her passion for books, art, furniture, textiles and ceramics in her serenely designed stores. Since opening her first in 1976, she has stuck rigidly to her values and is a leader in her field.
The 606 Universal Shelving System designed by Dieter Rams in 1960 and made by Vitsœ ever since.
Another ‘pure brand’ is Vitsœ, a manufacturer of classic products designed by Dieter Rams. Mark Adams became its managing director in the 1990s and moved the company and production to London, where international markets would be better served. Vitsœ stands for “the inordinate power of good design in everything we do: designing thoughtfully, responsibly and intelligently for our company, our furniture and the many people who share a profound interest in all of our tomorrows”.
The 606 installed at my London studio.
As a Vitsœ customer, I can vouch for the supreme quality of its end-to-end service. It is everything the brand promises.
Today, global web-based monster brands like Facebook, Google and Amazon are not particularly transparent with their business practices and complex tax arrangements. Just look at the recent controversy over Facebook and Cambridge Analytics, where millions of private customers’ information was sold on to other organisations without permission. No doubt more stories will follow.
Trusting a brand is no longer as straightforward as it used to be. The Internet is like the Wild West all over again. And if nothing else, remember that a brand is not just a logo.
To hear a recorded interview with with me and Margaret Howell click here.