New Year, New York


Our year peaked early with a New Year’s Day interview in the New York Times about the Perpetual Disappointments Diary. It’s based on a phone interview and the way it’s been transcribed includes a few inadvertent Americanisms – I’m sure I didn’t say ‘I’m from Manchester and New Order is from there’. 

The picture was taken in a graveyard. 

You can read the whole thing here.

Get Christmas all wrapped up


(That headline is just to annoy the people behind this.)

A couple of weeks ago, we launched Perpetual Disappointments Diary: the appointments diary and journal with a series of disappointing twists. The London Metro has since described it as the ‘Best. Diary. Ever.’ which is our best review ever. Thanks to anyone who has ordered it or shared it in any way – greatly appreciated.

This post is to alert you to the fact that we’re now doing a gift-wrap service, so you can send the diary directly to your friends and avoid having to see them in person.


Visit the store here and choose from the gift-wrapped (£15) or non-gift-wrapped (£13) versions.

Here is the video we used to promote the diary – haven’t posted it here yet. 


And on a related note, I found myself writing a weird thing mixing the lyrics of Every day is like Sunday and Blue Monday. It's called Every day is like Blue Monday.

Perpetual Disappointments Diary


Today we release a new version of Disappointments Diary, which we first published in 2012. The new version (available here) comes in a larger, more cumbersome format, suitable for use as a journal and week-to-view appointments diary. It’s not specific to one year and can be used any time, hence the name Perpetual Disappointments Diary.*



As before, the diary contains a weekly demotivational proverb, combining new ones with the most depressing of the old ones.


Targeting the international loser, we have included a section of Useful Phrases translated into French, German, Spanish and Mandarin.


Other additions include Bank Insecurity Questions (first published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency), Personal SWOT Analysis, double the amount of Notable Deaths, and templates for Apology Notes and Passive-Aggressive Notes.


The diary comes with months and dates marked as normal, and a sheet of Monday stickers to mark the start of each working week. Dimensions are 210mm x 130mm.

Creative Review have written about it here.

Our strategic rationale is that it’s hard to do a new diary every year and there’s only a short window in which to sell each one, so by doing a Perpetual version, we free ourselves from having to do it again, while allowing us to flog this one grimly for years to come. 

Perpetual Disappointments Diary is available from for £13+p&p

This version is written and designed by Asbury & Asbury, based on an original design by Jim Sutherland, Hat-trick Design and Sue Asbury. You can read more about the original version in these previous posts

Please buy the diary now.


* The name was Sue’s idea, which is pretty good for a designer.

Awards ramblings 2013


The D&AD Writing for Design shortlist came out last month, with the winners announced on 12 June. Probably the most useful thing about the awards is the conversation that springs up around them every year, so this is my contribution.

On a personal note, there was some great news – a nomination for Disappointments Diary. Neville Brody picks it out as one of his favourite projects here, and it’s been shortlisted in the Design Week awards, with the winners announced on 4 June. I also had a few other projects entered into D&AD that didn’t get anywhere, so disappointments all round.



There were three nominations in D&AD Writing for Design this year. Alongside the diary, the second was GOV.UK, which won the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award and has been written about extensively elsewhere, including praise from two of the judges Mike Reed and Joe Weir. It’s notable that, while it’s been widely hailed as one of the landmark creative projects of the year, it didn’t get recognised in the digital design category or anywhere else at D&AD. It strikes me as a good justification for the existence and relevance of Writing for Design as a category that it picks up projects like this.

Games Maker


There doesn’t appear to have been much comment about this, but the third nomination in Writing for Design went to a project that amounts to two words. Here’s the entry video explaining it.

You should look at it before reading on.

What do you think?

I’ve argued in the past that a one-word entry might one day win in Writing for Design. One contender was Ma’amite. I’m not sure if that was entered – if so, it didn’t get anywhere.

The nomination reflects a subtle but significant change in the category that took place this year, which is to include an extra subcategory called Writing for Brands. The idea is to recognise writing that doesn’t have a design element (i.e. not Writing for Design), but is nevertheless great brand writing. It’s a subject that came up last year and which I wrote about here. It’s good to see the new subcategory is already bearing fruit.  

That said, the nomination will cause some raised eyebrows. The video makes a persuasive case, but it must have been a hard one to evaluate alongside the other work, which doesn’t get a chance to make a similarly emotive pitch for itself. There’s also an inevitable note of Olympic sentimentality about it, which it’s hard not to be swayed by.

On the surface, it’s a decision that I can see appealing to a lot of writers – the idea that words can be such powerful things, even just two words. But I wonder if there’s an element of wanting to believe it too much. Can we really quantify the difference the words made? Even if we can, is effectiveness the best measure? 'Games Maker' may have made it into the dictionary, but so did 'Simples'.

I think if it’s going to be a one-word winner, then the word not only has to be demonstrably responsible for the success of the idea, but also an admirable creative insight in itself. A couple of comparisons come to mind – the namers of the Everton store in the Liverpool One shopping centre, who came up with ‘Everton Two’. Or the lovely ‘Ends Fri’ ad for the last episode of Friends that I wrote about here and which got in-book a few years ago (in Press Advertising). Even in those cases, you could argue they’re just nice one-off jokes or beautiful moments of serendipity. But there’s no doubt there’s something special and memorable about them.

With ‘Games Maker’, there’s nothing inherently inspired or unexpected about the name itself. What marks it out is the strategic insight that you don’t have to go with the standard ‘volunteer’ – why not have a more motivating name? But even judged on that level, I’m not sure it’s qualitatively different from those train companies who have ‘customer hosts’ instead of ‘guards’. It’s the same principle – seeing the opportunity to avoid the generic term and inject some positivity with a new term. It’s become a widespread PR trend with job titles and usually it ends up grating with the public, as people sense the spin behind it. Had the Olympics not gone so well, would ‘Games Maker’ have seemed equally cloying to us? If we’re being really harsh, does it have a faint ring of Jubilympics about it?

I’ve hesitated to raise it on here, but I find this stuff interesting and I’m surprised it hasn’t caused more comment elsewhere. I wonder if it will lead to a spate of brand name entries in future.

Category in general


As well as the three nominations, there were six in-books this year – a reasonable haul from total entries numbering 95, which is slightly up on previous years. It’s good to see Roger Horberry’s work for RNLI in there – a nice bit of witty writing that has entered the mainstream (I saw the tea towels in John Lewis the other day). The other entries come from Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Istanbul, which shows the scope of the category these days. The IF Istanbul identity takes a bit of ‘getting’ but looks good. It’s interesting to see the Shrewsbury identity involving We All Need Words getting a nomination in branding, but nothing in writing, although I don’t know if it was entered.

GOV.UK strikes me as the main story of the year. It’s a project that could change what clients expect from writing – after years of people asking for Innocent or The Economist, I suspect GOV.UK will now be mentioned a lot. I hope it signals a move away from the obsession with tone of voice (which make up only a tiny fraction of the full GOV.UK style guide) and towards a more rounded engagement with writing in its fullest sense. At the same time, I hope there isn't a swing too far the other way towards spare, functional writing – it makes sense on a government website, but there's still room for more fun and wit elsewhere. 

NB: Disappointments Diary is available to buy from our shop if you're the kind of person who buys a diary in June, in which case you'll probably like it.

Pentone Boxset


To coincide with the opening of the After Hours exhibition (see yesterday’s post), we’ve produced a Pentone Boxset, featuring the same 30 swatches that are now on display at the Jerwood Space. The boxset is available to order from today.


The postcards are presented in a very smart (if we say so ourselves) box, handmade by a company in Manchester. It contains 30 A6 postcards, ranging from the tear-jerking Pentone Sad to the laugh-a-minute Pentone Funny, via some disturbing detours to Pentone Drunk and Pentone Horseshit.



We hope it’s not just an enjoyable read, but also a useful aid to creative thinking and writing. But you’ll be the judge of that.

The boxset is on sale in our new Tictail store. We’ve been using Tictail to sell diaries since Disappointments Diary launched last year, but we’ve now expanded it to include Pentone Boxsets, copies of Corpoetics (still flogging that one) and the few Pentone mugs we have left.

For his generous advice on the production of the boxsets, we want to thank Jack Jackson of Polite, an independent art publisher from the same hometown as us. Among many other things, Polite produces postcard sets on behalf of artists and photographers including Peter Blake, David Shrigley, Kevin Cummins, Harry Hill and Factory Records. We’ve used the same format for the Pentone Boxset, and we’re pleased with the way it’s turned out. (There’s a subtle nod of respect to Polite in the layout of the text on the boxset cover, but this is a more upfront thank-you.)

Buy the Pentone Boxset
More on After Hours
More from Polite 

After Hours at the Jerwood


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

Every day is like Blue Monday



Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year, but in reality a PR ruse with minimal scientific basis started by Sky Travel to flog holidays. Strangely, once you know that, it does turn it into the most depressing day of the year.

Nevertheless, it felt appropriate to post something today, as a brief nod of solidarity to all the people who have bought a Disappointments Diary and are making their way stoically through the year. Thanks to David Janes for mustering up the energy to send us the pictures above.

If you've bought a diary and would like to be added to the Twitter list of Disappointments Diarists, please let us know. No pleasantries necessary – just tweet us your Twitter name.

If you'd like to 'like' us on Facebook, you can't as we're not on Facebook.

If you haven't bought a diary, the bargain bin January fire sale is now on, so it's more in your price range now.

Finally, we're pondering what to do with the diary next year – so far all plans involve selling out in some way, or not doing anything. If you have any feedback or are currently sleeping with the global commissioning editor at Penguin, please let us know.

Happy Birthday Polite

Picture 4

We’re reasonably pleased to report that Disappointments Diary is being stocked at the Polite shop at the Hayward Gallery over Christmas.

It’s the only place the diary will be physically stocked, so if you’re based in London and want to try before you buy, you know where to go.

You should go anyway. Polite is a quietly brilliant company that has spent 12 years working with artists including David Shrigley, Harry Hill, Peter Blake, Magda Archer, Scott King, Factory Records, StudioThomson and plenty others. You have probably seen their greetings cards in various design shops. They also produce limited edition books and postcard sets. The aim is to make art more commercially accessible by producing affordable but desirable objects. And they are always beautifully produced.

Polite is celebrating its 12th birthday and the shop opened at midday today, 12/12/12, so they are obviously good at planning things too.

More details of the shop here and on Design Week.

The diary is still for sale online at

Downhill from here


We were delighted to find out Disappointments Diary has made it into the Guardian’s Christmas gift guide. No doubt there will be some compensating bad news soon enough.

The diary also sits grumpily at the bottom of the excellent We Made This gift guide

Thanks to everyone who has bought the diary, blogged about it, tweeted about it and generally been supportive.

For the uninitiated, Disappointments Diary 2013 is an appointments diary with a series of disappointing twists. It’s published by Asbury & Asbury, designed by Hat-trick Design and available in no good bookshops – only from

Dispatching disappointment


An announcement for anyone who’s ordered a diary. Unfortunately, there’s been a slight hold-up in delivery from the printer – we were hoping to dispatch the first 1,000 today, but it looks like being early next week now. Non-ironic apologies for this. But rest assured, if you placed your order before Friday 9 November, your limited edition copy will be going out next week.

If you’ve placed an order since Saturday 10 November or are placing one now, it’ll be a non-limited-edition but nevertheless massively disappointing version. These will dispatch in the first week of December.

This whole thing has been an eye-opener for us. We underestimated the logistical challenge of parcelling up and labelling this many diaries. The picture above shows the youngest Asbury being roped in to help. (If you have concerns about child labour laws, you are right to.) But all the envelopes are printed and ready to go. We just need the diaries to arrive.

Disappointments Diary 2013 is a pocket-sized appointments diary with a series of disappointing twists. Initially produced in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, the diary is now available more widely. It's published by Asbury & Asbury, designed by Hat-trick Design, and available from

Sold out and laboriously restocked


A couple of weeks ago, we announced the publication of Disappointments Diary 2013, an appointments diary with a series of disappointing twists, designed in collaboration with Hat-trick Design.

It came in a disappointingly limited edition of 1,000 numbered copies. The site has been open for advance orders, but the bulk won't ship until after 14 November (we're waiting on the main delivery). If you've ordered one, thanks both for the custom and your patience. All 1,000 are now accounted for, including about 25 that we kept back for ourselves.

In a rash and self-defeating business decision, we have now ordered some more. These won't be numbered and therefore come without that carefully contrived limited edition cachet. However, in all other respects, they are every bit as disappointing.

Again, there will be a delay between ordering and delivery. You can place orders any time at, but orders placed from today won't ship until after 4 December. Still in good time for Christmas, and certainly for 2013 itself.

If you weakly succumb to one purchasing decision today, make it this one:

2013: unlucky for all


Our last post announced the launch of Disappointments Diary 2013, a new publication from us in collaboration with Hat-trick Design. Here is a more exhaustively detailed description.

Disappointments Diary 2013 is a pocket-size (125mm x 85mm), week-to-view diary with a series of disappointing twists.


As well as functional information about notable dates, the diary includes a series of ‘Notable Deaths’, acting as a depressing reminder of the great people who have already left us. Sunset times are given in the ‘Onset Of Night’ section, while conversion charts include information on the relative weights of lead balloons and damp squibs.


Each week comes with a demotivational proverb, including ‘Genius is 99% perspiration and you’ve mastered that bit’, ‘There are plenty more fish in the vast, implacable ocean’, and ‘Another day, another net loss’.


A contacts section includes 'People Who Never Call', 'People You Owe Money', 'Imaginary Friends' and 'Imaginary Enemies'. Blank sections include 'Notes toward a dull novel' and 'Pointless doodles'. There are also maps of the London Underground (unhelpfully in black and white) and the M25.


Disappointments Diary 2013 is available in a limited edition of 1,000 numbered copies from Advance orders are being taken, with first copies shipping on 14 November.

Sales are moving surprisingly non-sluggishly, so it's worth ordering soon if you want one. The more likely scenario is that you'll ignore this, have a change of heart in a couple of weeks, go to order one and find it's sold out because you were too slow as usual.

Disappointments Diary 2013


Today we launch a new publication: Disappointments Diary 2013.

An appointments diary with a series of disappointing twists.

Plenty more will be written about it on this blog, but for now, you can read some background on Creative Review.

First copies ship on 14 November, but we’re taking advance orders at

It was a privilege to collaborate with Jim Sutherland of Hat-trick Design on this. He came up with an appropriately downbeat feel for the whole thing, including grey pages that get subtly darker as you make your way grimly toward the end.

More details next week. But why not just cut to the chase and buy one.