New work. Book reviews. Ideas. Likes and gripes. The following blog is something of a random visual and written notebook brought to you by totalcontent. We’ll be covering a wide range of topics, from projects and prospects, to words and writing, to typography and technology, graphics and popular culture… and much more besides. Hope it tickles your fancy and feel free to have your say.
Here’s the cutely animated result of a short script we wrote recently to explain QuidCycle, a new ethical peer-to-peer lending programme.totalcontentwas brought in by branding agency Collider to help with launch materials for this new venture — and to write their website too. The aim was to take the fear factor out of money by using reassuringly friendly, accessible language.
Over the past 18 months or so, we’ve been working extensively with branding consultancy Bostock & Pollitt, mainly on (London) property projects. Their particular strength is unearthing something unique about a given development, and then bringing this to life through their branding ideas. We’ve been helping out by expressing B&P’s creative theme in words, naming, straplines, developing an appropriate tone of voice, and then creating copy for digital and printed collateral.
One of these projects was Devonshire Square, an architecturally diverse campus with 630,000 sq ft of office space, shops, homes, restaurants and bars, tucked between the City and Shoreditch.
It all started with a slightly skewed phrase that popped into my head one day for no reason... ‘A leopard never changes his spats’. This conjured a comical image of a dapper feline with an immaculate top hat and cane but inexplicably dirty footwear. A children's illustrator could have a field day, I thought.
Building on the theme, I racked my brain for more well-known sayings, and made a rule for myself... each idiom could only be changed by a single letter. And then I came up with a title that explained the concept by almost acting it out — ‘From Idioms to Idiots — How One Letter Can Make All The Difference’.
Much of the summer of 2013 was spent working on the prospectus for Haileybury (or more properly Haileybury Imperial and Service College), a leading co-ed private school in Hertfordshire. Its alumni include former Prime Minister Clement Atlee, author Rudyard Kipling, and more recently, Batman film director Christopher Nolan.
We were drafted in by design company hat-trick to provide words around the theme of a 'day in the life' of the college, quite a radical approach for an institution of this kind. In reality, the times of the day became pegs on which to hang different aspects of the school, from its emphasis on 'co-curricular' activities, to the benefits of boarding, to its impressive facilities. Underlying all this was the idea of promoting a broad, joined-up education, which offered more than just academic excellence.
To the letter... publicity poster for the fictitious 'Dig It Festival', calligraphy by Ann Bowen
It’s been a while since I took part in a collaborative project with 26, the writer’s group I co-founded with seven others ten years ago. ‘26 Words’, was a kind of reprise of ‘26 Posters’, one of our very first efforts, which randomly paired writers with designers, gave them a letter of the alphabet and asked them to go off and produce a poster together. Back then I got editorial design legend Derek Birdsall and the letter I. Both wonderful.
This time round 26 writers were paired with 26 lettering artists from the crafts-based lettering association Letter Exchange. I was teamed with the hugely talented calligrapher Ann Bowen and given the letter D, but there was also a twist this time. In a slightly shamanistic ceremony held in the basement of the Betsy Trotwood pub in Clerkenwell, we were asked to stick a knife into a dictionary to pick out a word starting with our given letter. In our case, the tip of knife pointed to ‘dig’.
Christmas seems to have come early at totalcontent. Last week we brought you Royal Mail's Madonna and Child stamp presentation pack. This week, we unwrap the children's Christmas stamp competition pack, charmingly designed by our good friends at NB Studio.
Here, we were asked to tell the story of the nationwide hunt for designs striking enough to grace first- and second-class during the 2013 festive period. The challenge was open to children in the UK aged 4–11, and there were prizes of £100, £500 and £1000 to be won. This is only the third time Royal Mail have staged a kids' stamp competition, and the response was overwhelming, with over 240,000 entries covering all kinds of Yuletide subject matter in every conceivable style.
I’m really pleased to have contributed to this rather classy pack showcasing this year’s Madonna and Child Christmas stamps. The set of five (plus two extended large-letter stamps) feature depictions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus through the ages, as well as a specially commissioned (and strikingly beautiful) new painting by neo-Coptic artist Fadi Mikhail, which sits on the £1.88 stamp. I helped Royal Mail tell Fadi’s story, including his tutelage under neo-Coptic master Isaac Fanous; his process and thinking; and the heavy symbolism of this very prescribed genre of painting. On the reverse side of the sheet, there’s a potted history of Madonna and Child paintings by art historian Rowena Loverance. You can get hold of a special Christmas presentation pack, designed by Robert Maud and Sarah Davieshere. Or of course, pick up Christmas stamps for all your cards from your local Post Office.
What a 17-year-old book on the language of technology means today.
On Saturday mornings, I’ll often be found in Leamington’s Oxfam Books and Music on Regent Street. It’s a great place to pick up second-hand vinyl and old Penguin paperbacks, and you never quite know what you’re going to find.
The other day I snaffled ‘Wired Style — Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age’ for a couple of quid, which got me thinking not only how rapidly English is evolving now, but how technology is constantly changing the way we write and speak. It was ever thus, I suppose, but these days it’s happening at warp speed. Doing what I do, I’m a bit of a sucker for style guides, and own everything from the Economist and the Guardian, to Oxford and Fowler’s. But ‘Wired Style’ has a different agenda, proclaiming itself a celebration of writing that “jacks us into the soul of a new society”.