Talking point

Cp_4

Following Jonathan Meades’ exploration of brutalism which began on BBC4 last night, I thought I’d post this interview with Wilem Frischmann, the engineer who built Centre Point in London.

I spoke to him in 2011 as part of a project (with hat-trick design) exploring the history of Centre Point, a building whose hypnotic honeycomb façade and decorative patterns belie the ‘brutalist’ label that is often attached to it.

Cp-drawings

Wilem Frischmann is now a grand old man of engineering, a partner in global firm Pell Frischmann and father of Justine, lead singer of Elastica. But when Centre Point was being built in the early 1960s, he was just starting out and keen to make a name for himself.

The whole thing was an amazing piece of engineering, built in record time using a single crane and no scaffolding. At the time, planning details weren’t available to view so readily, so Londoners played a continuing guessing game wondering how tall the tower would get.

Cp-build

I was struck by how hands-on the project was for Wilem Frischmann, to the point where he personally ventured into a 100-foot narrow bore-hole beneath Tottenham Court Road to check the strength of the foundations – and nearly didn’t make it out again.

The interview is on the Centre Point blog and is in three parts:

Part one
Part two
Part three 

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.

Towards the domain singularity

Blogshot

Big news in our small world this week. We’ve recently decomissioned our individual sites (nickasbury.com and sueasbury.co.uk) and folded them into an updated Asbury & Asbury site, which you’re now looking at.*

The back story if you’re interested:

Ten years ago, there was nickasbury.com (site of freelance writer Nick Asbury) and suerogers.co.uk (site of freelance designer Sue Rogers).

Five years ago, for reasons easy to deduce, the latter became sueasbury.co.uk

At the same time, a new site was born to showcase side projects and collaborations between the two of us – asburyandasbury.com

Close on its tail came the @asburyandasbury Twitter account, where Nick has always done the tweeting.

In the five years since, Sue has stopped working as a freelance designer (making room for motherhood) and now works solely on Asbury & Asbury projects. Nick continues to work as a freelance writer (he’s even writing this sentence), but it seems increasingly unnecessary to have a nickasbury.com site alongside asburyandasbury.com

So you’ll find it’s all part of one site now, with our own projects in the Projects section and Nick’s freelance writing (still his main thing) in the Writing section. There are also updated Press and People sections and the all-important Shop.

The best email addresses to reach us on are now nick[at]asburyandasbury.com and sue[at]asburyandasbury.com

The old addresses will still work, but be aware you’ll be aggravating us ever so slightly every time you use them.

After ten years, we have achieved the domain singularity. It is a good feeling.


* OK, unless you're on an RSS reader.

Gesamtkunstwerk

Form_poster1

Form_text

I worked on an enjoyable project with design company Build just before Christmas. They were commissioned by German/English magazine Form to create a poster for their ongoing series. The theme of the issue was 'Collaboration' so Build decided to get their Twitter followers involved – the call went out for people to tweet their favourite German or English word. Once 140 words had been collected, Build sent them to me to convert into a poem. A 14-line sonnet tied in with the numerical theme, so I picked out my favourite words, hunted down a few rhyming pairs and created a nonsense poem with vague glimmers of something disturbing going on underneath.

The title translates as a 'total work of art' or 'synthesis of the arts', so it felt right for this synthesis of design, writing and tweeted contributions, as well as the collaboration theme.

The result reads like this:

Gesamtkunstwerk

Bikini bingo: squeezes bosom.
Candid hardcore schlittschuhlaufen.
Super bazinga cosmic rummage.
Scuttling cretin. Prefer knowledge.
Astronaut daydream: rotund baboon.
Infinite aesthetic. Sublime spoon.
Currywurst, saucepan, rundumdum.
Butternut bungalow: dongle numb.
Love bruise. Crumbs. Catastrophe.
Invisible haberdashery.
Gesundheit! Ostrich silhouette.
Spiffing palimpsest cassette!
Coda: Muscovite (loquacious).
Bubble. Bumble. Boggled. Bodacious.

Michael C. Place at Build took the poem as the cue for the illustration and it's lovely to see the words brought to life and interpreted that way (albeit disturbing – the image is arguably even weirder than the poem). 

For images that do justice to the project, see the Build project page. Posters can be ordered online at Form.

An intere ting pu lication

Worldwithout_1

I’ve recently worked on an unusual project with Liverpool design company SB Studio. It’s a book about their company, or more accurately about everything except their company.

The title is The world without and the idea is to imagine a world without SB. The jobs that would never have been done, the people who would never have been employed, the office that would never have been occupied. And true to the premise, the book is written without including the letters S or B.

I was aware of a French novel called La Disparition by Georges Perec, which is written entirely without the letter ‘e’. So I thought it would be interesting to try it for SB, albeit not quite to novel length. It's a tall order, ruling out common words such as is, was, does, as, so, about, be and been, as well as most plurals. Not to mention the word design.

But the idea is that you'll flick through the whole book without realising the self-imposed limitation, until the pay-off at the end.

Worldwithout_6

Each desolate and empty spread imagines the various dimensions of life that would be different without SB – “Think of the flipchart unflipped / The experience unexperienced / Each tale untold / Each endline unwritten.”

The main text links to a series of endnotes going into more depth, with Ss and Bs included. As the penultimate footnote states, “When it came to the footnotes, we let ourselves off the hook. We’re not completely crazy.”

Worldwithout_5

As well as being a playful exercise, the idea is a celebration of the creative power of constraints. The trickier the brief, the more enjoyable the process of finding an answer. It’s also a surprisingly good way to focus on what you actually contribute as a company. As George Bailey finds out in It’s A Wonderful Life, imagining the world without you can be an illuminating experience.

Copies of the book (beautifully produced) are available on request from theworldwithout.co.uk

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.

In brief

In_brief

Hat-trick Design is one of the great British design companies – their work is consistently ideas-led, witty and beautifully crafted. Now in their tenth year, they’ve produced a book to celebrate every project, and I helped by writing the words.

We decided not to go in for the lengthy project descriptions that you get in a lot of design books. Partly because there's a lot of work to show. Also we’re not sure anyone actually reads them. But mainly because great ideas should explain themselves – you just look at the work and get it.

So the book opens with a quote by Elmore Leonard:

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

Then there’s a four-word foreword:

Briefs aren’t. Ideas are.

Then the reasoning behind the book is explained in the introduction:

The thing about briefs is they usually aren’t. Brief, that is.

Briefs involve audiences, aims, context, competitors, back-story, budgets, personalities, politics, mandatories, guidelines and messages.

Briefs are complicated.

The right answer to a brief is different. It really is brief. It cuts through the clutter and hits you with a simple message. You don’t need 500 words of explanation to tell you why it’s the right answer. That’s how you know it’s the right answer.

This book includes ten years of work for over 150 clients. But it doesn’t contain many words. We’ve included just enough to explain each project and give a clue to the thinking behind it.

The rest of the book is made up of 150 projects, all with a project description of no more than two or three words. Enough to anchor the idea and let you know what you’re looking at.

Do you fancy a quick read?

The book is a work of art in itself – small, but heavyweight, just like Hat-trick.

There are 1,000 copies available for £25 each (slightly more if you're outside the UK). I seriously suggest buying a copy – there are inspirational projects on every page.

Mr Blog meets Little Chef

Olympicbreakfast

For the past few weeks, Venture Three’s bright and breezy rebrand of Little Chef has been attracting warm reviews in various corners of the internet, including Creative Review and Brand New. I’ve been meaning to post for a while to say that the writing half of Asbury & Asbury played a small part in it.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t me who was involved, but Mr Blog. He received an email from Venture Three late last year, enquiring as to whether he also did any copywriting. After giving it due consideration, he was happy to oblige. (Mr Blog and Mr Tweets then had to sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement, which Mr Tweets did surprisingly well to honour.)

The Little Chef rebrand is based on the idea of ‘Wonderfully British’, so there’s a natural affinity with Mr Blog. His contribution, it should be said, was limited. He spent a couple of days playing around with different copy approaches, which Venture Three then put into the mix and took forward.

As you’ll see, the finished work isn’t quite Mr Blog in tone, but demonstrates he can turn his hand to more informal and populist copy when required. (Click images to enlarge.)

Free_range

Freetinternet

Fish_and_chips

It was a great project to be involved in, and proof that doing things for fun (like Mr Blog) can sometimes be a productive business strategy.*

NB: For anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about, Mr Blog was a six-month Asbury & Asbury project documenting the various ‘Mr’ shops on Britain’s high streets – more details here.


* You might argue that blogging about Mr shops every day for six months to win a couple of days’ work isn’t that great a strategy. It would be a harsh argument, but a fair one.

And the nominations are...

1000words_nasbury
This year’s D&AD nominations and in-books are out (the pencils aren't announced until the ceremony in June).

I was pleased to get a nomination in Writing for Design for the 1,000-word poster I wrote (designed by The Chase – pictured above), while the complete set of four made it in-book in Graphic Design.

Pauldalling

The proofreading site I wrote with Wheatcroft & Co also made it in-book in Writing for Design.

And two projects with Hat-trick Design are also in-book:

VictoriaA

Victoria hoardings for Land Securities (in Typography as well as Graphic Design);

Mappinglondon

and Mapping London office graphics for Land Securities (mainly a design project, to which I contributed some words) – in the Branding category.

Incidentally, the Graphic Design jury continued the noble tradition of almost comical stinginess, with a total of 6 nominations, including just 3 from the UK. To put that in perspective, the Design Council's latest research suggests there are 232,000 practising designers in the UK. Sometimes makes me glad I'm a writer.

Thisyear

There are two other Writing for Design nominations. One is by Christopher Doyle, whose Identity Guidelines featured in 2009. His latest piece is a collaboration with Elliot Scott, titled This year I will try not to. It's an expertly and entertainingly observed roll call of design clichés (like the one pictured above) and a rallying cry to do better in future.

MOS7

The other nomination is Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – an inspired UK extension of the 826 National project in the US.

The story of the US project is worth hearing in full, but essentially involved setting up a network of learning and literacy centres in major cities, starting with 826 Valencia in San Francisco. Planning regulations meant the premises they wanted had to be used for retail or catering purposes, so the organisers (led by Dave Eggers) found a cunning way round it: set up a fictional store to act as a front for the learning centre inside – one that embodies the values of story-telling and imagination that the project itself promotes. So the Pirate Supply Store was born. Extensions in other cities include the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, the Museum of Unnatural History in Washington, and the Robot Supply & Repair store in Michigan.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is the UK version of the same project, led by Nick Hornby among others. The monster theme is brilliantly chosen and the products and packaging are carried out with real style by We Made This. (It would be easy to go over the top or get the tone slightly wrong, but it feels exactly right.)

It's great to see it getting recognition in D&AD and, for me, it's the stand-out writing project this year. That said, I can’t help thinking that, if the original 826 National project had been entered in its entirety when it first launched, it would have been the first Black Pencil winner in Writing for Design (the highest accolade at D&AD and only given out rarely). It has everything – an important social purpose, a genuinely original idea that cleverly transformed a problem into an opportunity, and brilliant graphics and writing that have been central to the project's success. It would have walked it.

But then, maybe some people have better things to do than entering D&AD. Like running life-changing literacy programmes.

(By the way, the projects mentioned at the start of the post are me working in my freelance capacity. Asbury & Asbury didn't enter anything this year, although we enjoyed doing this poster for the World Cup, and working with Mr Blog on the finest blog post witnessed in generations.)

1,000 words paint a picture

1000-words-frames

I was recently invited to contribute to a typically interesting project by design company The Chase. It’s a series of promotional posters, postcards and t-shirts for photographer Paul Thompson, all of which feature absolutely no photography.

Instead, each canvas is made up of exactly 1,000 words inspired by an image in Paul’s online portfolio. There are four pieces in total, written by Ben Casey and Lionel Hatch of The Chase, alongside me and freelance writer Jim Davies. They make a smart set of postcards...

1000-words-postcards

...and t-shirts (if you don't mind someone staring intently at your chest for five minutes).

1000-words-tshirts

For my piece, I wanted to make a genuine attempt to convey an image in words, so that you’d have a good chance of picturing it when you’re done (and so you would feel drawn to Paul’s website to see how close you were).

At the same time, I wanted to highlight the comical impossibility of conveying a picture through language, because we all respond to them so differently. A picture is never just about how it looks, but what it makes you think and feel.

Here’s what I wrote (click image to enlarge). 1000words

You can view the picture on Paul’s site, which is the point of the whole exercise.

Hat-trick hoardings

Victoria_main

If you're anywhere near Victoria Street in London, you might have come across these hoardings for developer Land Securities – effectively a bespoke typeface for Victoria, where each letter is the cue for a little story about the area.

Hat-trick Design came up with the idea and the somewhat beautiful design. I worked with them on researching and writing the individual stories.

Victoria_n

This 'N' is about New Scotland Yard and how the famous sign outside makes 14,000 revolutions per day. A passing policeman seems interested.

Victoria_wvi

W – Westminster Abbey
Technically, Westminster Abbey no longer exists. Its real name is the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster. It continues to be known as Westminster Abbey even though no monks have lived there since the 16th century.

V – Victoria Memorial
The Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace was sculpted by Thomas Brock in 1911, with a surround by architect Sir Aston Webb. The winged figure at the top is the Angel of Victory, representing a time when Britannia really did rule the waves.

I – Illusion
Even native Londoners sometimes do a double-take when they realise many of Victoria's most famous landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, lie south of the London Eye on the South Bank. The loop in the river means it's anything but a straight dividing line.

Explore

The nice thing about the system is that it can be used for several developments in which Land Securities is engaged throughout Victoria. You can mix and match the letters to create new words and phrases depending on the context and available space.

Know_victoria

I don't have a picture of the 'Z' right now, but can confirm it proved a headache until 19th-century eccentric Sir Walter Rothschild came to the rescue. Legend has it he once drove a zebra-drawn carriage into the grounds of Buckingham Palace to prove to the world that zebras can be tamed. I'm very glad he did.

(More of Hat-trick's somewhat beautiful work here.)

The Nation's Prayer

Nationsprayer


Here's a prayer in anticipation of Sunday's match. Background and inspiration here

You can download and print your own version if you like (landscape format).

Godspeed, England.

The Nation's Prayer – Background

Britain-prays

Yesterday morning, The Partners produced this beautifully simple England poster.

Yesterday afternoon, their prayers were answered: England beat Slovenia and will now play Germany on the 27 June – a Sunday.

That got me wondering about writing a prayer for England, which in turn brought to mind the Bus Driver's Prayer, of unknown origin, but immortalised by Ian Dury. Frith Kerr made this lovely poster out of it for the 2009 London Design Festival:

Busdriversprayer

All of which eventually led me to write a similar thing involving the current England squad. Sue has turned it into a poster, which I'm about to stick up in the next post.

Stet

Paul_dalling

Don't normally post excerpts from the day job up here, but this one was fun and might be of practical interest for some people. Paul Dalling is a proofreader and by all accounts a very good one. I worked with designers Wheatcroft&Co on this site. The first time I've been asked to write copy littered with errors, which worryingly seemed to come quite naturally.

Barnaby bulletin

Programme_folded

A few weeks back, we mentioned how we're doing the branding for the Barnaby Festival, a revival of a local Macclesfield celebration that goes back centuries, but has all but died out in recent years. The festival takes place in a couple of weeks' time, so things have been busy.

Alongside the set of postcards we produced, the main piece of print is the festival brochure (pictured above). Once you fold it out, half of it doubles as an A3 poster:

Programme_folded_out

which various shop windows have now started displaying:

Shopwindow

And this is how the rest of it looks:

Programme_inside

Programme_map

About 40,000 copies were sent for delivery around Macclesfield, while we volunteered to deliver a couple of thousand door-to-door in nearby Bollington (our manor).

Programme_delivery

This was a slightly bigger task than we first realised and we now have an intimate acquaintance with the many letterbox designs of Britain. Hats off to whoever invented the ankle-high, vertical, tightly-sprung-metal-flap, stiff-brush variety – contender for most misanthropic invention of modern times.

Meanwhile, some big Barnaby banners have started to spring up around Macclesfield, partly as advertising, but also to help with the town decoration for the festivities themselves. 

Banner

Not long to go now. Trust you've all kept the weekend free. (Macclesfield is exactly 100 minutes on the Virgin train from London and, from what we've heard, there's never much going on there at the weekends.)

Postcards from Macclesfield

Barnabyback

More attentive readers will already know that, having been based in London until around a year ago, Asbury & Asbury has moved back to the north-west, just outside Macclesfield – that fine mill town famous as the home of the silk industry, Joy Division and, erm, the Macc Lads.

We've found ourselves in the position of branding a new local arts festival, known as Barnaby. It's a revival of the old charter fair that Macclesfield began celebrating around the Middle Ages, connected to St. Barnabas Day and the summer solstice.

It used to be a very big deal. Victorian times saw thousands of people flocking into Macclesfield to see fairs, travelling zoos and music hall entertainers. For a while, the fair left Macclesfield altogether – the mills would shut down for a fortnight and the town would head off en masse to Blackpool.

Over the course of the last century, the whole thing died out, as the mills closed for good and working practices and holiday patterns changed. Now it's coming back again, in the form of a long weekend of artistic, cultural and family-friendly events. It's organised entirely by a few local people volunteering their time, so there's a real grassroots feeling to the whole thing.

Anyway, these are the first fruits of our extensive, in-depth branding exercise (otherwise known as designing a logo and some postcards).

Barnabymill

The mill is the logo and centrepiece – not so much dark and satanic as bright and breezy.

Barnabytwo Barnabybright

There's plenty of folklore and archive material associated with the festival, which the organisers have done a great job in unearthing. Like this old press cutting:

Barnabyfair

And this folk rhyme, alluding to the festival's position around the summer solstice:

Barnabysun

We used that rhyme as the starting point for some rhyming copy (not quite worthy of the term 'poem'), hinting at what the festival will include:

Barnabypoem

We're continuing to think about various festival materials, so there may be a few more goodies to show soon.