Books, as usual, featured prominently in my clutch of goodies from Santa. Top of the pile were ‘Reasons to be Cheerful – The life and work of Barney Bubbles’; the Penguin reissue of ‘Design as Art’, by Bruno Munari; Dorling Kindersley’s ‘Art – the Definitive Visual Guide’ (a real door-stopper); and finally, a little indulgence – ‘The Clash’ by The Clash, 384 pages of archive photographs and insights into one of the mightiest bands of all time. Expect some reviews in the ‘well read’ section once these beauties have been fully digested.

Calendars are tricky. Make the wrong choice, and you’re lumbered for the next 12 months. Often I’m lucky enough to receive a fine offering from one of my designery friends, but this year no such generosity was forthcoming. Which meant venturing into the ‘real world’ of big-breasted women, dog breeds, and soap stars to see if I could find something that remotely fitted the bill. On, I was mildly diverted by one featuring 12 Mexican wrestlers photographed by Malcolm Venville; tempted for a moment by a another featuring 12 reclining nudes painted by old masters including Ingres and Modigliani. But I finally settled for a collection of US fruit crate labels from the 1920s, which seemed suitably graphic and obscure.

It turned up with a sticker on it which read “We apologise that February 29th appears on your 2009 calendar. This error does not affect the rest of the calendar. All other dates are correct”. No mention of this on the web site and no discount. You’d think for a company that specialises in selling calendars, the one they’d get right are the dates. If ever there was a case of form before function, this is it.

new work – Navyblue.

Branding consultancy navyblue’s new web site really bucks the trend. There are no images, just big, bold, unapologetic words, spelling out the agency’s beliefs and credentials loud and strong. All of which were provided bytotalcontent. Using a direct question-and-answer format, we set up a verbal template in which navyblue’s various strengths and capabilities were conveyed through a series of succinct case studies. It’s good to see writing being used so positively and confidently, and design taking a back seat to content. To read more, visit

totalcontent has written Royal Mail’s Year Pack for the third consecutive year. This is a collection of the year’s ‘special’ stamp issues (the ones with the pictures on them) together with short commentaries on each of the featured subjects. 

The 2008 pack, designed by The Chase, uses the conceit of a perforated, stamp-like picture frame to crop and outline part of a larger photographic image. Arresting and surreal, the large-than-life frames capture a field of poppies, a sheep dog, a life boat and an ant, among other things. 

For us, it meant researching and bringing to life a typically arcane group of subjects, including cathedrals and pantos, air shows and horror films. And we’ve just been asked to do next year’s too.

All this writing doesn’t half work up a thirst. It’s important to hydrate the brain at regular intervals, but that essential quaff of herbal tea needs to be presented in an appropriately stylish container. My two favourites at the moment are the Pantone™ 021 C orange mug, and this fairground type-inspired chubby fellow designed by my friend Mark Faulkner at Repeat Repeat. Will report back if there are any developments.

do it yourself.

I’m always a sucker for a bit of ‘vernacular’ type. That is, street lettering that’s been hand-rendered by someone with little training, but a lot of enthusiasm. So this CD cover from Californian funksters Tower of Power immediately struck a chord. I’m still not sure how much of it has been ‘staged’ and is therefore an elaborate double bluff, but even so, this really is a case of so bad it’s good. (And I just love “T-bone 75c. With meat $5”).

Books, even of the humble paperback variety, are precious to me. I keep every book I’ve read in case I want to revisit it at any point. They are like diary entries, reminders of particular places and moments in time. For a few days, you have an intense, personal relationship with a book – something that’s worth cherishing. So it really hacks me off when a book that falls apart during the first reading – like ‘Bit of a Blur’ by Alex James did when I was halfway through it on holiday. A black mark then to publishers Abacus for such shoddy binding. Detracting from what was otherwise a truly enjoyable, and surprisingly eloquent romp through the 1990s rock ’n’ roll landscape.