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August 2010

Search stories

I think this has been around for a while, but I only discovered it recently. It's a promotion by Google that allows you to script your own 'search stories', by entering a series of search terms and choosing some accompanying mood music.

Like all such things, it's full of potential for playfulness and subversion. My first thought was to do something quite melancholy and existential:

Then I tried something trivial and silly (you need the sound turned up for these):

The next obvious step was to retell a literary classic. (Warning: don't watch this one if you haven't already read The Grapes of Wrath. It's one of the great endings to a novel and I don't want to be responsible for spoiling it.)

Someone somewhere is no doubt going through the full literary canon.

You can make your own here.

A Cloudy Language #66

Our Cloudy Language series regularly highlights the fact that weather presenters use more words than necessary to convey the required information.

So it's refreshing to see a respected BBC presenter using no words at all to make a powerful point.

Interestingly, Tomasz Schafernaker has form in this area.

Introducing Mr Blog


We've just launched a new project called Mr Blog. The idea is to document all the 'Mr' shops on our high streets. You can follow Mr Blog directly, or via his colleague on Twitter, Mr Tweets.

Here's what you'll find on the Mr Background page:


For decades, shopkeepers up and down Britain have intuitively understood one of the key principles of branding. It's about taking an inanimate product or an intangible service and investing it with a personality. Something to which people can relate on a human level.

They've also worked out the simplest way to do it. Just take your product or service and put 'Mr' in front of it. Or in some cases, Mrs or Miss. It's a great way to describe what a shop does and personalise it – all in one short, memorable name.

The result of this instinctive 'folk branding' is a lively cast of characters who cheer up the everyday shopping experience for millions of people.

But these characters are in trouble. The increasing homogeneity of Britain's high streets is crowding out the individual and the homespun. Some are disappearing altogether, while those that remain are jostling up against powerful global brands that easily outdo them for sophistication and marketing spend.

Mr Blog is an attempt to recognise and honour these under-appreciated characters, and show them our support. 

We had the idea a few years ago and thought it would make a nice ongoing photography project. We planned to snap a few shopfronts and gradually develop a collection over the years.

Further down the line, we realised that life is short and petrol is expensive.

In the meantime, another very useful service had come along: Google Street View. It means we can now research the shop names and addresses online, then go hunting on Street View for visual evidence.

We still hope to gather some original photos (possibly helped by reader submissions), but in the meantime Street View makes for a welcome and fun alternative. It truly is one of the great technological undertakings of our age.

We'll post the odd update here, but Mr Blog himself will be hosting most of the action.

Hat-trick hoardings


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.


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


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.


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.


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.)