A love-letter to my favourite book
Today is a good day, today my favourite book in the whole wide world was published in it’s 3rd edition.
I can confidently say my favourite book will always be my favourite book, this book is me, and I am this book, this book has taken me on a journey that no other book could, as I grow old this book will only become a better read, imparting more wisdom with what it’s pages tell or rather what it’s pages choose to omit.
My favourite book is always mine but never belongs to me, at any time my favourite book can be taken away from me, and although I don’t think of it in these terms my favourite book is a cold reminder of my liberty. Tucked inside my favourite book are library ticket stubs, little pieces of evidence of the international lending service that my book and I have participated in, little careful interventions that when found evoke the strongest of memories.
Whilst I can read poetry in it’s utilitarian pages the design of this book I don’t actually care for. Sure the second edition was set in my favourite typeface, big deal… who knows; the fourth or fifth edition might not even be printed on paper, but I know that when required they will still come to exist.
What makes this book so important to me is that it’s a reflection of a journey, On a literal level it’s a reflection of many journeys but this book is more than the sum of it’s parts, for me this book says more about what I was doing in the decade that it was published than the specific events it documents.
Although my favourite book is a public document it is also actually a very personal statement; for me who I am is not about ‘where I am from’, for me who I am is a reflection of ‘where I have been’, the journey I have taken, the things I have done, the places I have been, the things I have accomplished and the people I have shared all this with. It’s this journey that informs my perspective on the world and it’s this book that chronicles this journey.
Today is a good day, today my favourite book; my Passport was published in it’s 3rd edition.
Pizzaiolo is a modern take on a traditional pizzeria. It launched in Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border earlier this year.
I’ve worked with Pizzaiolo from it’s inception, starting with it’s positioning and a simple identity driven by typography, materials and pattern. I’ve since rolled out the identity across everything from website to the instore environment, signage to packaging and advertising.
Design, Photography & Art Direction: Robin Howie
Topology at Tate Modern
I was recently commissioned to design the event-identity, catalogue and promotional materials for ‘Topology at Tate Modern’; a six month long programme of keynote conversations, performances and seminars dedicated to exploring the secrets of space through Topology’s trans-disciplinary nature.
Topology was originally a mathematical general theory of space which was quickly adopted in the first half of the twentieth century by artists, architects, psychoanalysts, philosophers, and psychologists. Topology is a conceptual framework to explore, transformation, multiplicity, limit, intensities, boundaries, interior, exterior and cut.
The identity was firmly based on the topological concept of ‘multiplicity’ and ‘transformation’, it was an intentional intervention that the identity could be accidentally be read as ‘Toto’, ‘Popo; ‘Lolo’, and ‘Gygy' — a key part of topological thinking is it's capacity for transformation and to look for alterity or 'otherness' these fictional characters where my own intervention, that hinted at a possible otherness to the events.
The design of the programme’s catalogue explored other topolological ideas; the section titles explore topology typographically, looking at intensities in interior and exterior spaces and on a smaller scale throughout the design I’ve made nods to boundaries and borders too.
The fantastic cover image of Ernesto Neto’s Leviathon Thot was photographed by Rion Nakaya.
The Ragtop Boys
Off the back of designing Nice Shirt Films identity and new website I was invited by director John Turner to design the film titles and promotional materials for his excellent short film ‘The Ragtop Boys’, the film which is in the style of an observational documentary follows a British greaser gang on there last weekend together, it’s a film about friendship, and growing up in mundane suburbia; it’s a nostalgic film about feeling part of a gang and being ready to set the world on fire.
The film is currently doing the rounds at film festivals internationally (a requirement of is that the film can’t be publicly available) so I can’t show the finished titles in the film just yet… I can however show a few stills and tell you the story behind them.
The design of The Ragtop Boys was very much inspired by the vernacular of Chicago’s greaser gangs and there calling cards from the 1950’s — 70s. There’s some fantastic examples of these here. I love their immediacy and the element of amateurism to them, they’re much more menacing than they are threatening and each gang exudes a certain idiosyncratic charm made up of there visual codes and the myth it creates around the gang. This was exactly what I wanted to achieve with the Ragtop Boys’ campaign and titles, to create a coded language synonymous with the gang, something with a lot of swagger about it that had charm but also a menacing gang mentality about it.
The fantastically talented Mike Redmond was instrumental to all this. I commissioned him to become the hand of the Ragtop Boys; I hadn’t commissioned an illustrator before so I took my naivety in the area and ran with it. I told Mike I wanted him to be illustrations equivalent to a method actor, for the purpose of the job he was a member of The Ragtop Boys. Now I’m not sure how far he went with his method but the results where brilliant.
Here’s a look at the titles, which where interspersed throughout the film, when a new character was introduced there personal calling card flashed up:
I spent an interesting 24 hours running up to the roof and back with watering-cans trying to get the card of the calling cards to rapidly age by a couple of decades, I’d soak them with water and watered down bleach, let them dry again, jump on them, sit on them, knee drop them and pull them through the gaps in the studios wooden floorboards to rough up the edges Repeat this several times and you can age paper pretty well; all in the name of design!
Research is really critical to me as a designer, whilst I was thrilled by the vernacular of the Greaser Gangs’ calling cards they also worried me a lot, predominantly they used a combination of hand drawn elements, letterpress and blackletter typography. It’s the blackletter typography that bothered me as it’s commonly (although often mistakenly) association with the Nazi Party. Combined with scrawls of KKK hoods and nazi iron crosses I got a bit worried indeed, nazi sympathisers The Ragtop Boys are not! But… many of the gangs in question where Black or Latino…
I had two theories one was that the vernacular style came from Chicago itself, the masthead of the Chicago tribune had been a blackletter since the papers inception in 1847. My other theory was that the gangs blackletter typography came from the Latino gangs — a lot of blackletter woodtype was exported from Germany to Latin America and heavily adopted there… you can see the influence on gang culture through graffiti all across America, specifically in California. My theories weren’t enough so I decided to investigate further:
After contacting ex-gang members I discovered that there was no association with White Power organisations and that this was all part of the codes of the gang and their one-up-man-ship over other gangs. This one-up-man-ship definitely was like the Ragtop Boys and gave me the confidence to really push the Blackletter in the design; opting for a typeface called Tannenberg even though it was commonly used in the Third Reich (and eventually denounced by Hitler) it carves the perfect identity for The Ragtop Boys. Type buffs might want to catch me out on the other typeface used. AG Old Face which was only designed in 1984; but as the budget wasn’t there to go digging through typedraws in Chicago and print the design all in letterpress…. AG Old Face provided the closest match.
Here’s the email invites to the premier screening held at the Aubin Cinema:
At the screening the audience where admitted with rubber stamps on there hands, buttons and temporary tattoos everyone in attendence was an honoury member of the gang and given a Ragtop Boys Fanzines (the press pack).
The fanzine was also made from the perspective of the Ragtop Boys. I spent the afternoon on a photocopier and cutting matt to get the right feel, there was a little scalpel accident which just so happened to be the missing element of one layout, Blood and sweat (but no tears) went into The Ragtop Boys campaign.
With the dvd case I thought it would be great if the design looked like it had been graffiti’d on by the gang in magic marker… so I had the designs screenprinted directly onto the jewel case’s.
It was a fantastic project to work on…
thanks to Director John Turner for asking me to come on board.
And thanks to Mike Redmond; illustrator extrardinaire for adding his amazing talent to the project.
Page Tsou — The And, Never End
This monograph was designed for Taiwanese artist Page Tsou to accompany his major homecoming show at the Taipei Gallery ‘Agora Arts’. Page has been working on a series of portraits entitled The And for a few years now, in essence the work is Pages’ unique vision of storytelling through a simple shift in perspective to the often ignored backs of peoples heads.
The book’s playful format mirrors the shift in perspective that Page’s work negotiates, portraits are placed over perforated french folds which can be torn open to reveal a further body of work. A book within a book contains essays and two other areas of The And (Weapons and Order). Portraits are printed in silver and black duotones to hint at their original mixed media of pencil, print and ink. Finally the cover is front to back and inside out driven by a bespoke typeface called ‘Endless Page’ this typeface is inspired by the common red and white helix pole found on Barbershops both in the UK and Taiwan.
Client: Page Tsou / Agora Arts (Taipei, Taiwan)
Portraits are playfully placed over the books perforated french-folds
Tearing open these french-folds reveals a wider look at ‘the and’ through barbershop scenes
Halfway through the book appears a booklet bound within the book, it features critical essays from the curators as well as two other areas of ‘The And’ firstly a series called ‘Weapons’ (various shavers & scissors) and ‘Order’ (various combs and hairbrushes).
Here’s a closer look at ‘Endless Page’ the bespoke typeface I designed for the book:
Food for Thought
I just finished up a pretty fun job for The Architecture Foundation. The project was part of a much wider project called Willesden Windows which is funded by the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund and Brent Council. I was one of several designers asked to work with a local shopkeeper in Willesden Green the plan was to help revive and improve local businesses and bring about positive change to the area.
The Architecture Foundation paired me with a cafe called Food for Thought to see what could be done with a small budget. I worked to create a more engaging window display and more flexible seating plan for the cafe. Taking inspiration from their name I designed Food for Thought bespoke ‘Thinker Stools’ (inspired by Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker’) and a window display that acts as a community engagement board featuring revolving questions each month that customers can come in, ponder over and share there own thoughts as part of the display.
Also; the nice folk at Creative Review wrote a post about it here:
RCA at the LDF
Exhibition identity and umbrella campaign for the Royal College of Arts events during this years London Design Festival (2011).
THE LYRE BIRD | robinhowie
I’ve just uploaded the audio to the Lyre Bird record, an experimental project created whilst studying at the RCA.
Press Ad for the Royal College of Art’s School of Design
Poster from ‘The Red Mansion Art Prize’ campaign.
RMAP is a residency programme for London art students to live and work at the Red Mansion Foundation in China and later exhibit their work in London on there return.