Tuesday, October 12, 2021

That'll tell 'em

I recently saw this bridge in Lisburn, Northern Ireland - you have to ask: how big does this sign have to be? I can imagine each time it's hit, they make a new sign, each one bigger than the last.

The problem is that all communication requires a contribution by the reader. On your day off, driving your car, this sign does not address you. But if you forget that you're driving a double decker bus, it doesn't matter how big the sign is. It's all about relevance.

Thursday, August 12, 2021


In a taxi in Istanbul a year or two back I was impressed by the driver’s light (and more or less constant) touch on the horn. He was able to produce a light toot as a gentle prod, or a savage blast when necessary.

I’ve long wanted a set of horn buttons - a gentle toot to say hi to a friend I’ve spotted, or ‘I’m outside your house’. A klaxon to say ‘Oi, you just cut me up’, a loud but cheery one to say ‘watch out I’m coming round the corner’. 

Now Ineos have done exactly this on their new off-roader, the Grenadier. Brilliant.

But I still want some drum pads on the steering wheel to play along with the radio.

Monday, May 31, 2021

RIP Ken Garland


Ken Garland has died at the age of 92. I had this copy of his Graphics Handbook while still at school and was delighted to find him as a tutor when I went to study typography at Reading. According to Jonathan Bell's obituary just published in Wallpaper, this would have been his first year there, in 1971. I think it was Ken's concern for communication, not ornament, that sent me in the direction of information design, and I took his 1964 First Things First manifesto seriously: "We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes." 

Flicking through his collection of articles and lecture notes, A word in your eye, I recall how good a writer he was. There are subtle and appreciative obituaries there of Henry Beck, Alfred Wainwright, Anthony Froshaug and Ernest Hoch, beautifully observed, and I hope someone more capable than me will write one as good for him. Ken was hugely supportive during some difficult times following the launch of Information Design Journal, and I feel very lucky to have known him and to have been taught by him, and that my career took its direction from his ideals.                                                                                                             

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


This sign outside a church in Bath shows good design thinking. 

It's on a busy road but drivers might glance across.

We know it's a church. We know they meet on Sundays. The only thing that's worth saying legibly enough to be read at a glance is '10.30am'. And the sheer size of it gives a strong affordance of 'you're invited'.

Your call is important to them but they're busy helping other customers

After an awful customer service experience, you want to vent by writing it up on Trustpilot. But no one wants to read your fifty line rant.

So how about a simple scoring system, so you can say, for example:

"Cooperative Bank (to pick a brand at random... not really)
120 minutes time on phone
10 days to resolve my problem
225 Marks of Shame."

This way people would get a measure of the severity of distress caused but don’t have to relive it. The Marks of Shame would accumulate rather like the way they mark Olympic ice dancing, with each move given points for technical merit and artistic impression. For example, 

  • Each hour waiting on phone: 25 points
  • Each time The Four Seasons starts again: 10 points
  • etc... I'm sure you'll have your own favourites.
Addendum a week later: I've just remembered I blogged something similar a long time ago - it was a Beaufort scale for unclear documents. To remind you, the Beaufort scale describes wind force:

0. Calm. Ideas rise vertically from page to mind.
1. Light difficulty. Slower reading. Dictionary pages rustle.
2. Moderate difficulty. Reader lightly swaying; visible perplexity.
3. Difficulty. Head shaking, audible groaning.
4. Severe difficulty. Loud muttering, and music heard from helpline queue.
5. Very severe complexity. Foaming. Abrupt movement about room, with swearing.
6. Storm. Whole documents in motion, from table to floor.
7. Brainstorm. Considerable damage to conceptual structures.
8. Typhoo. Reader flattened in darkened room, with cup of hot sweet tea.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Throwing away the mail

I've just discovered the American poet Wendell Berry, who writes beautiful reflections on life, the countryside, the seasons, belonging. 

Throwing away the mail

Nothing is simple,
not even simplification.
Thus, throwing away 
the mail, I exchange
the complexity of duty
for the simplicity of guilt.

From The Peace of Wild Things, published by Penguin.