Well OK, maybe not quite ‘nothing’, but you know the kind of brief where you’ve got very little time, no budget for a photoshoot and all the client can give you is some terrible photos they shot on their phone through a car window in the rain. You’re feeling a bit guilty about jumping straight onto istock again as you’ve fallen back on that solution a few too many times lately. So, what’s left? DIY.
My absolute hero of making-stuff-out-of-not-very-much-design is Reid Miles, the man behind Blue Note’s iconic jazz covers of the 50’s and 60’s (he carried on into the 70’s but to my mind the flamboyant fashions of the day didn’t gel with his pure aesthetic approach). Reid would mask use of poor photography, do weird tricks with film processing, do type with letraset and purposely blow it up so you saw the imperfections and use big, bold Bauhaus-inspired blocks for emphasis. Of course there were times when he’d have the most beautiful, smoke-drenched portrait to work with and he had the good taste to leave well alone and simply crop it with care. But it’s his more ‘graphic’ covers that do it for me. Rather than being limited by his meagre budgets Reid saw having only two colours and an out of focus photo as a pathway to creative inspiration.
Fast forward half a century and there are still many great practitioners taking the DIY approach. I love 3 Deep‘s minimal approach to colour and typography. These guys are some of the best art directors working today and can come up with the most amazing photography but they’re also not afraid to pare back to make a strong, graphic statement. Take their work for 6 Scents for instance – dynamic, original design built from only simple black and white shapes and numbers.
In between, Neville Brody and Peter Saville did the same – Brody making his own iconic fonts and Saville creating bold solutions from abstract shapes and colours.
Dutch designers Studio Dumbar were a big favourite of mine when I was at art school for their DIY approach. In their early days if they didn’t have good source material they’d often make crude models from seemingly random objects and shoot it themselves. Of course as they progressed clients began to approach them with big budgets asking for “that home made look”. They still produce beautiful, minimal work that blows me away every time I see it – take this identity for OVG Real Estate for instance. Can you imagine Bayleys or Barfoots going for that concept?
We have much to learn from the wonderful mix of boldness and elegance coming from many contemporary Asian designers. This poster for a retreat with teacher Thich Nhat Hanh uses ancient sumi-e drawing styles in a modern, light-hearted way. OK, so this example does have a photo but the concept and execution rely on a cool idea rather than an expensive photoshoot.
I love the work of Hideki Nakajima for its brave use of colour and simple forms. It feels like it comes from an authentic respect for its past but has a contemporary, global sensibility. I hope the increasing Asian influence in Auckland will help us break out of our reliance on retro-kiwiana and encourage us to build a strong, visual language for the future.
In Europe there seems to be a swing towards contemporary evolutions of the bold simplicity of the German and Swiss schools of the mid-20th Century and the brighter Spanish and French work of the 70’s and 80’s. Somehow all of this DIY ethic is feeding into an exciting melting pot of great new digital work coming out of everywhere from Brighton to Bucharest. I love this constructivist influenced five-booklets-in-one publication from the Universität der Künste Berlin called Design Reaktor Berlin – it feels like it comes from half a century of design aesthetic and yet is also utterly ‘now’.
So now you’re probably thinking I’m going to show off lots of Transformer‘s work that takes the minimal approach. Well this is something I’ve pondered for many years – whilst I love this kind of work we don’t do much of it ourselves. We did do this recent poster for Amnesty where we all burnt matches in the shape of the word Hope and photographed it to make an, um, striking image.
But I guess at heart I’m a maximalist and I love texture, colour, multi-layering etc so minimalism is not my natural response to a brief. Someone recently said to me that we often admire the opposite of what we do ourselves. How true.
This is from a blog published by Design Assembly