Text sells

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 09.52.56

It’s nice to have played a small part in the return of design title Grafik, now in online rather than print form.

The new site is interestingly text-led for a design site and the same approach has been carried through into its advertising. Rather than garish banners fighting for attention, Grafik is running text-only ads that are consistent with the editorial style, while still being clearly marked as ads.

I’ve helped write some house ads explaining the new approach, and written an essay about the continuing power of good writing in advertising and design.

Read the full article here.

The grand old man of brand

Wallyspread
The March 2014 edition of Creative Review includes my review of Brand New: The Shape of Brands To Come, by Wally Olins. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the article online.

The book is released on 7 April and available to order.

For anyone interested, the article references a number of sources:

Adrian Shaughnessy – Why designers should give branding back its soul

Michael Johnson – Mind the gap

Terry Eagleton – Reading On Brand 

An interview with hat-trick

Hattrick1_0

Having just posted an interview with myself, here’s one with me doing the interviewing.

I’ve been fortunate to work with hat-trick a lot in recent years, on projects including Victoria hoardings, Centre Point, Ebbsfleet Valley and Help Musicians UK. They also collaborated with us on Disappointments Diary 2013.

Now they’re the subject of a book by Chois Publishing (part of its We Love Graphic series), for which I’ve written the introduction, an extended case study about their work with Imperial War Museums, and an interview with two of the company’s founders, Jim Sutherland and Gareth Howat.

Hattrick3_0

The interview has been re-published on the Creative Review blog and you can read it here

The book is called 240pp of thoughts and you can order a copy from the hat-trick shop.

Best Male Solo Marketer

Morrissey_0

I’ve written a piece for the Creative Review blog comparing Morrissey’s release of his autobiography on Penguin Classics with another leftfield pop marketing move – the release of David Bowie’s ‘Where are we now?’ earlier this year. You can read it here.

Creatively reviewed

CR1

It’s a great honour to have been profiled in the September edition of Creative Review. You can read the article by Mark Sinclair on the Creative Review site (subscribers only) or order a copy of the magazine here.

I received the invitation to do it a couple of months ago, met up and talked for about three hours, but had no idea how it would turn out – a disorienting experience as I’m usually the one doing the writing. 

Fortunately, I was in the hands of a magazine I’ve admired for a long time and they’re good at making people sound good. The one bit that may be open to legal challenge is the billing at the front as ‘the design industry’s favourite writer’ – I can think of many writers and even more design companies who would dispute that.

CR2

CR3

For anyone entering the competition at the back, I wish you the best of luck from my home near Macclesfield, which is technically in the county of Cheshire although I think of it more as the edge of the Peak District, but the answer is Cheshire. (Enter here, or just buy your own damn stuff.)

In case the article has led anyone here for the first time, you can find out more about the projects featured through the links below. 

1,000-words poster (The Chase)

The World Without (SB Studio)

Paul Dalling website (Wheatcroft&Co)

Alas! Smith & Milton (book design by Grade Design)

Centre Point book (Hat-trick Design)

and personal projects:

Mr Blog

Disappointments Diary (with Hat-trick Design)

Corpoetics

Pentone Boxset

plus #clienttweaks, the Apple long copy article and Cloudy Language.

There’s also a passing mention of Fishages, which is now reaching a critical level of brand awareness that I urgently need to work out how to monetise. 

Show off

DP1

I recently contributed to a book called Design: Portfolio, a collection of designers’ self-promotional work edited by Craig Welsh of US design firm Go Welsh and published by Rockport.

It’s primarily a visual reference with images of over 300 self-initiated projects, but it also includes a series of five short essays around the subject. Craig has kindly allowed me to reproduce mine here.


Show off
By Nick Asbury

Woody Allen said that 90% of success is showing up. Looking at the design industry, you could say the other 10% is showing off. Self-initiated and self-promotional work has always played a big part, both for rising stars making their names and global firms keen to maintain a creative reputation.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, there’s a lot right with it. Simply moving from one client brief to another is a passive existence for any creative person. A self-initiated project is a chance to explore ideas and elements of your craft that would otherwise never see the light of day.

There’s a subtle distinction between self-promotional work and self-initiated work. The former is explicitly produced for the purpose of promoting yourself – that’s the only reason it exists. It might be a book detailing your best projects, or a mailer talking about your company approach.

Self-initiated projects are different. They’re ideas you pursue yourself, without the involvement of a client, but which have a purpose beyond self-promotion. For me, this is an interesting seam to explore. It might be a book of poetry rearranging the words on corporate websites, or inventing the language equivalent of the Pantone color-matching system. If you pursue an idea you find interesting, there’s a good chance other people will too.

Of course, self-promotion is a useful side-effect when these projects go well. But the same is true of client work. Do a great job for a client and it won’t just be good for them. Your firm’s reputation grows by association, among your peer group and other potential clients. In that sense, all work is self-promotional. You just have to make sure the world knows about it – which brings us back to showing off.

However you do it, showing off has to be done. Many of the best things that happen in any creative career come about through serendipity: striking up a friendship with a like-minded collaborator, or bumping into the right client at the right time. Showing off helps serendipity happen. The more visible you are to your peers and the world at large, the more likely it is you’ll get that magical, career-changing email out of the blue. That’s partly why I said yes to writing this article – it’s a form of showing off. And you never know who might be reading. 


The book is nicely produced, with a varied range of contributors including Hat-trick, Bruce Mau and KesselsKramer. You can order it here. Photo from Wier Stewart.

After Hours: blogging and talking

Burrill_0

A brief update to say I’ve written a long blog post for Creative Review about the After Hours exhibition at the Jerwood Space, in which I was one of the exhibitors with Pentone. You can read it here

I also took part in an evening of talks by some of the contributors last night. In the spirit of the exhibition being all about personal work and new ideas, I decided to run through a list of rough ideas and half-thoughts that I’ve had over the years, which have never quite turned into anything. It was therapeutic getting them off my chest, but also odd to be in front of a sophisticated creative audience talking through my plans for fishages and pickle-pooling.

Other speakers included Phil Carter, who was fascinating on the inspiration behind his Found Folk sculptures. Jim Sutherland talked through his Garage book which came alive when you heard the personal story behind it. Katy Edelsten and Annie Hazelwood from YCN talked through their entertaining Telegram project. Craig Oldham was typically forthright on design and self-initiation (firmly in the camp that design isn’t about self-expression). And Michael Johnson was authoritative and entertaining as ever on Arkitypo and Phonetikana. Curator Nick Eagleton hosted the evening, which also saw the launch of the book of the exhibition.

The exhibition remains open until 23 June and entry is free. Details here.

Pentone Boxset is available from asburyandasbury.tictail.com – 30 postcard-sized Pentone swatches in a hand-finished box, produced to coincide with the exhibition.

After Hours at the Jerwood

Photo

Things have been busy lately in the run-up to an unusual exhibition hosted by Jerwood Visual Arts at Jerwood Space in London. After Hours is a collection of personal projects by graphic designers. It opens this week and runs from 15 May to 23 June.

The exhibition is curated by Nick Eagleton of The Partners, who has gathered together a great list of contributors, including Robert Ball, Anthony Burrill, Phil Carter, Michael Johnson, Joe Phillips, Alan Kitching, Magpie Studio, Craig Oldham, Jack Renwick, Steve Royle, Jim Sutherland, Alex Swatridge and a selection of projects from the Young Creatives Network.

My contribution is a collection of 30 framed Pentone swatches, pictured above on our kitchen floor, but hopefully on a gallery wall by now.

Pentone is a project that began in 2006 when we produced a mailer of nine swatches, each containing a sample of a written tone of voice – a verbal play on the Pantone colour-matching system. It later evolved into postcards, greetings cards and mugs. But I’ve always felt it should turn into some kind of ‘definitive’ collection at some point, and this exhibition has been the catalyst to make it happen. The 30 swatches are mainly new ones, with a handful of old ones mixed in – Pentone Boring remains as dull as ever.

To coincide with the exhibition, we've produced a Pentone Boxset including all 30 swatches, more of which to follow.

There will also be a reading table at the gallery featuring publications from the contributors, with Disappointments Diary and Corpoetics both included.

As well as contributing to the exhibition, I’ve been working with curator Nick Eagleton on the writing that goes around it. The principle has been to keep it simple – it’s more about celebrating the contents of the exhibition rather than theorising about them. To that end, the opening panel in the exhibition contains a rhyming list of the many and varied items on display, an evocative taster to set the tone. For the detailed analysis, there will be a couple of talks at the Jerwood Space over the course of the exhibition, going into the thinking behind the work and the wider questions it raises.

I’ll write more about the exhibition over the coming weeks. For now, here are a few related articles:

Design Week feature
My contribution to a related Design Week voxpop
More from johnson banks
Details and visitor information

Celebrating John Hanna

Cr_articleThe April edition of Creative Review carries an article I contributed on the illustrator John Hanna. Some readers may remember I posted about him in 2009, having stumbled across some copies of a magazine called Country Fair. The original post is here. The cover illustrations were all signed simply ‘Hanna’, but I was surprised to find next to nothing about him online. There was a flurry of comments that confirmed his identity as John Hanna and led to some sketchy biographical information, but then things went quiet.

Early this year, a new comment appeared on the post. It was from John Hanna’s son, Max. We exchanged emails and I ended up meeting him to find out more about his father’s life and work.

To read the full story, you’ll have to track down the Creative Review article – available to buy here or subscribe here

There are a few images that didn't make the article but are worth sharing:

British_travel_association

poster for the British Travel Association, featured in the Graphis Annual 1955/6 and found by Sandi Vincent on Flickr. 

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Also this detail from a Shell ad, from the Graphis Annual 1956/7, again rediscovered by Sandi Vincent. 

Birthday_card1

A personal piece, combining a tiger, walrus and kangaroo: the Tigerusaroo.

Birthday_card2

Birthday_card3

Two birthday cards lent to me by John's son Max.

Cockerel

Peacock

And two more Country Fair covers, copyright the estate of Macdonald Hastings, and kindly supplied to me by Jenny Duff, who is now selling a range of John Hanna place mats (echoing a promotion that took place in the 1950s).

The Creative Review article includes an appreciation of the work by contemporary illustrator Joe McLaren, whose work you can see here.

Max

Finally, thanks to Max Hanna for getting in touch and sharing a fascinating story.

Ghost in the machine

A brief post to point you somewhere else.

To coincide with the release of the 2012 Creative Survey, Design Week asked me to write something about creativity, collaboration and the role of the freelancer.

You can read it here.

Sloganz Meanz Commentz

Dailymail460

I recently had the strange experience of being quoted at length in the Daily Mail. They'd picked up on the recent top twenty slogans edition of Creative Review, which placed 'Beanz Meanz Heinz' at number one. The most entertaining thing was reading the 69 comments that followed.

It should be said that laughing at Daily Mail commenters isn't so much like shooting fish in a barrel as draining the barrel of water, nailing the fish to the bottom and hiring fifteen trained marksmen to spray them liberally with machine gun fire.

There is also the lingering suspicion that these may be spoof comments, possibly even written by someone at the Daily Mail to keep the traffic up. Nevertheless, they have the ring of truth about them. 

The poll may have had most people pondering what makes a good slogan, and which one might be their personal favourite. That's most people. Daily Mail readers immediately fear for the future of our once great nation:

Livingonbeans

Mr G of South Yorkshire angrily dismisses Heinz and marches off to Aldi:

Aldi

This sparks off quite a debate, with the suspiciously named Albert Hall:

Sainsburys

Mr or Mrs Wind in the Willows tries to make the peace, reminding us that beans are good whatever the brand:

Cantbeat

I'm not sure what this next comment is getting at, but I think they're suggesting a rewrite of the greatest slogan of all time:

Rewrite

Meanwhile, Paevo from across the Atlantic has perfected the Daily Mail tone of voice:

Withans

Paul from Lancashire makes what is surely a spoof comment, but then who knows?

Liberallefties

A Spurs fan from North London makes a telling point that may lead to a reprint of the Creative Review issue.

Alltime

But my favourite comment came from Mr M in London. It's not the spelling, it's the contribution itself:

Heineken

There's a kind of genius in that one. My favourite is that one I can't remember.

The story appeared in the Mirror as well, but no one commented on it.


(Top image taken from The Guardian, following Google image search for 'Daily Mail reader'.)

11 from 11

In the predictable rush to cover natural disasters, political upheaval and the fall of empires, many reviews of 2011 will no doubt fail to note our blogging exploits – so we've been forced to write our own.

Here are eleven posts from 2011:

Mrtrophy

1. The year began on a sad note with Mr Blog’s Valedictory Awards Show.

Mcelwee

2. The valedictory mood continued with reflections on Rob McElwee’s disappearance from our daily lives.

Asda

3 & 4. February was poetry month – one about Asda launching a dating service, and one about the birth of a new Asbury (the defining moment of our year in a big and increasingly noisy way).

Blind

5. April saw ill-informed copywriters defacing a blind man’s sign.

Amnesty
6. May was all about the Creative Amnesty, a joint venture with Creative Review, which saw the great and good of the creative world sharing their worst ideas.

1000words

7. June was the month of 1,000 words.


Friends

8. July was The One With The Really Good Friends Advert.


Wackaging

9. September saw a rare venture into long-form blogging, with some reflections on wackaging and the trouble with copywriting.

Wrapper

10. October saw the unwrapping of WrapperRhymes.

Rotavator

11. And finally there was a salute to the greatest brand name of all time: Rotavator.

 

If you have been, thank you – and happy Christmas.

Reflections on the cat's eye

Catseye00

I've just contributed to a Design Week voxpop about the design stories behind everyday objects. My choice was the cat's eye.

I'm far from the first to point out what a remarkable piece of design it is, but the story can't be told often enough. Its inventor was a Yorkshireman called Percy Shaw. Different sources tell different versions of the story, but the romantic version has it that Percy Shaw was driving down a dark stretch of road, from which the tramlines had recently been removed. This was a problem, as people generally relied on the reflections from the tramlines to find their way at night. As he approached a blind bend, his headlights caught the eyes of cat sitting on a fence, which alerted him to slow down – without that cat (the story goes) he'd have overshot the bend and met a messy end.

Whether or not the story is true, "cat's eye" was certainly an ingenious brand name, and beautifully carried through in the poster above.

As I mention in the voxpop, Percy Shaw was a bit of a character. If you're not familiar with it already, it's well worth reading more about his life and strange TV viewing habits.

Links:

Design Week voxpop
Life of Percy Shaw
More on the cat's eye

Every little probably does exactly what it says on the tin of beanz and Pop!

Beanzmeanzheinz_0

Creative Review is in the process of working out the 20 best slogans ever created. They've invited some people to send in their personal top fives. This is what I went for: 

1. Every little helps

I put this ahead of the others because it’s not just an advertising endline – it’s also a proper brand positioning. This is the comment I left on the original Creative Review post:

For me, the best strapline ever is also arguably the most evil: Tesco’s ‘Every little helps’.

It’s clever because it’s rooted in folk wisdom – a saying that has been passed down through generations. Exactly the kind of thing your grandma used to say. So it carries the everyday authority of a proverb.

It’s tonally appropriate – conversational and impossible to misunderstand (unlike John Lewis’s mind-bending ‘Never knowingly undersold’).

It’s strategically spot-on, because it taps into the customer’s mindset, and also works as a brilliant internal motivator. It’s about the tiny things that add up to a big difference – the penny cheaper on the baked beans, or the penny off the price you get from a supplier. Multiply tiny differences by something as big as Tesco and you have world domination.

And that’s the evil bit. The line is a classic example of verbal misdirection. ‘Little’ ought to be the last word you associate with Tesco. You should think of them as a multinational giant crushing everything in its path. But instead they plant that word in your head, with all the folksy charm it implies.

I don’t like it, but I admire it very much.

2. Beanz Meanz Heinz

The classic brief – associate our name with the generic product. The prosaic answer would be ‘Think beans. Think Heinz.’ This is the poetic answer – a brilliant piece of wordplay rooted in the brand name.

3. Does exactly what it says on the tin

Created a new idiom that will probably survive in the language long after Ronseal has gone. It’s a kind of anti-strapline – no wordplay, no clever twist, and a message so obvious it shouldn’t need saying – why wouldn’t it do what it says on the tin? But the hyper-clarity is perfect for the bewildering world of DIY.

4. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The definitive example of a strapline driving an entire brand. Like many great lines, it wasn’t conceived as a strapline – it was part of a radio ad that got picked up and developed into a series of characters that are still used today. Interestingly, the product makes a different sound in other countries: Pif! Paf! Puf! (Denmark), Cric! Crac! Croc! (France), Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! (Germany), Pim! Pum! Pam! (Mexico).

5. Probably the best lager in the world

A classic example of a brand taking ownership of a word. Look up ‘Probably’ in a dictionary and you half-expect a TM to appear next to it. It’s even better because Orson Welles voiced the original TV ads – the greatest voice reading one of the greatest lines. They don’t make them like that any more. (They make ‘That calls for a Carlsberg.’)

Also-rans:
Other contenders included ‘Yes we can’ (reinventing the political slogan), ‘Made in Scotland from girders’ (the surreal approach), Wasssup (dated now, but fresh in its time), and for sheer longevity: ‘Say it with flowers’ (Interflora). But I could probably have picked several more.

You can see all the other top fives here.

 

UPDATE: I've just remembered another personal favourite slogan, for Boost. "It's slightly rippled with a flat underside." Voiced by Vic Reeves. A nice deconstruction of the strapline.

Creative Amnesty: The Aftermath

Picture 4
So, as expected, Wednesday was an interesting day.

Creative Review allowed me to take control of their Twitter account and I used the opportunity to launch the first ever #CreativeAmnesty – a chance for creative professionals to share their worst work in an atmosphere of mutual sympathy and tolerance.

It was good fun, with entertaining and admirably honest contributions coming in from various corners of the globe. I believe I also managed to destroy the careers of various competitors along the way.

I’ve put together a rough timeline of how the day developed, using Storify.

So stop reading this and go and read that instead.

Twednesday

Unfollow

A brief post to let you know I’ll be guest editing the Creative Review Twitter account next Wednesday (25 May).

In terms of relative follower numbers, this is like stepping out of a rubber dinghy and taking the controls of the Queen Mary 2.

It's part of a week (well, four days) of guest editors, with Anna and Britt of Visual Editions editing on Monday, designer and blogger Daniel Gray editing on Tuesday, then a mystery editor on Thursday, chosen via a competition taking place on Twitter right now.

Please tune in if you're that way inclined.

The Literary Platform

Literaryplatform

The Literary Platform is an interesting and timely new site showcasing projects that experiment with literature and technology. I've just written an article for them about Significant Objects (the project that put the power of story-telling to the test on eBay).

There's plenty more good stuff on the site, like 26 Exchanges, Phaidon Design Classics, Songs of Imagination and Digitisation and The New Goodbye. Well worth following and supporting.

Significant developments

Eye26

A couple more developments on Significant Objects to share (background in last couple of posts) – first of all, this article on the Eye Magazine blog; and also an interview I did with Rob Walker, co-curator of the project, which is now up on the 26 website.

An initial flurry of bidding has brought Kenny up to $11.11. Bidding remains open until 6pm this Friday 16 October, so it’s all to play for.

Finally, they're running an open contest if you fancy writing a story yourself – details here.

See pages 123 – 127

BrilliantCopywriting

Owing to some kind of administrative error, I’ve recently appeared in this new book about brilliant copywriting. It’s written by Roger Horberry and makes for one of the best practical guides to copywriting I’ve yet come across – exactly the kind of book I wish had been around when I started out.

The final section contains interviews with ten copywriters about how they got started and the various tricks of the trade. It was good to be one of them, but also a learning experience – the main lesson being that I should try to talk in more coherent sentences.

Hopefully Roger won’t mind me including an excerpt below. For the rest, you’ll have to buy the book.


Q. How did you get started?
I did an English degree and finished that without a clue what to do. The only sort of copywriting I knew about was the advertising type, which I imagined being a very brash, ego-driven world – and that didn’t appeal. So I drifted for a year, then got a job at EMAP working for a fascinating magazine called Local Government Chronicle, selling ad space. As a side project, my manager asked me to create a little ad promoting the magazine, and I fondly remember my first effort. It was a map of the UK split into the local authority regions. Underneath it said '447 Authorities', then next to it was a picture of the magazine with the line 'One Authority'. I know, I know. Anyway, soon after I saw an ad in The Guardian for a graduate trainee copywriter at a recruitment advertising agency, a very unglamorous end of copywriting. I got the job and spent six months writing recruitment ads. I remember rushing out to buy the paper to see my work. I think my mum and dad pretended to be more impressed than they were.

Found in translation

Corpoetics has been picked up on a few blogs around the world, but the one we like best is this Dutch one called Fackeldey Finds, written by Jacqueline Fackeldey. We had to run it through the Babel Fish translation tool to work out what it meant. The result forms a strange kind of poetry in its own right. Here’s the introduction to her article (with some added line breaks):


You come them everywhere against,
the splendid sentences and slogans
with which commit themselves recommend.

You a book are able write and that is also exact
what the stylist has done Nick Asbury.

There, as it happens, recently a collection
of poems of its hand with in this poems
appeared based on those sentences.

Hence that Asbury this dichtvorm
and its collection of poems
very appropriate ‘Corpoetics’ have called.


Not sure what a dichtvorm is, but let’s face it, it doesn’t sound good.

Jacqueline goes on to include a few poems of her own, which look great, although Babel Fish continues to have its weird way with them. Here’s one example:


An open door is called at us `entrance solution'.
And we clean tillen at the level of precise cleaning'
but sometimes us the doubt comes over
in the form of the grindstone for the spirit
because simplicity is' nevertheless `design your own life'?


Sounds like a Steve McClaren press conference.

Anyway, thanks very much for the post Jacqueline. And thanks to Babel Fish for clearing everything up.

Corpoetics in Creative Review

Corpo

Our Corpoetics project gets some coverage in this month's Creative Review

Download a pdf (604 kb)