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.

Burnfoot is a single Highland malt whisky, available only at international duty-free outlets. Aimed at the younger, but still discerning whisky drinker, the design by navyblue adds an unusually modern twist, with fluorescent colour and contemporary typography. totalcontent provided the back of pack copy, taking the brand back to its roots with a small-but-perfectly formed tale of small-time bandits, smugglers and wary crofters tending their illicit whisky stills in a geological setting tailor-made for the ancient art of whisky making.

The 14 November 2008 issue of Design Week came complete with the annual Creative Survey. Jim contributed the sign-off article, in which he shares the benefit of his experience with a look at the dos and don’ts of writing for different media – from packs and print to online and speechwriting. There’s also an accompanying podcast, where he fields questions from DW editor Lynda Relph-Knight on the role of words in design. You can hear Jim’s dulcets by clicking through here.

ProGolf IQ is a new ‘brain training’ audio technique that helps to get your mind in tip-top shape for golf. Developed by a noted Australian psychologist, the five-week programme promises to put you ‘in the zone’ before you take each shot and radically improve your game. totalcontent was asked to write extensive web site copy, an online video script, and press ads, explaining the often complex ins and outs of the programme in a golfer-friendly way. The look and feel was designed by the recently formed, but highly talented,Magpie Studio. Now, where's my four iron?

It’s time for Jim to don the trusty wig and gown once more, as he has been invited to judge two of the UK’s leading design awards for 2009.

In November, he’ll be reprising his role as part of the Print Jury at the two-dayDesign Week Awards judging. There’s always a frightening amount of work to assess in a short space of time, but checking out the most inspiring graphic design of the year, and hanging out with the leading lights of the industry makes it a real pleasure.

Then in April, Jim will take his place on D&AD’s Writing for Design jury. It’s his second stint on this one, and he will be joined by Adrian Shaughnessey, John Simmons, Elmwood’s Richard Scholey, and several other old friends. This has quite a different vibe from DW, and while it’s tricky judging one type of writing against another, the day looks set to be a real eye-opener as usual.

‘11 Ideas for Legible Cities’ was a series of postcards, each describing a guiding principle for helping people find their way around the urban landscape on foot. They were written for information designers AIG, who have developed a prototype wayfinding system for London, as well as several other major cities around the world. The postcards were used as a giveaway at this year’s London Festival of Architecture, where AIG were exhibiting. So they needed to be snappy enough to interest members of the public, but also informed enough to appeal to architects. So, how do I get out of here?

Fashion-led communications agency exposure’s new web site is an all-singing, all dancing affair that reflects the vibrancy of the company’s people. Populated by quirky robots and toys, and featuring cartoon-like sound effects and animation, it’s a tour de force in young-at-heart online design. totalcontent provided the necessary balance with accessible, yet business-like summaries of the agency’s vision, credentials and short descriptions of its different departments. Random, lateral quotes from staff, culled from their business cards (a previous totalcontent commission), pop up when you least expect them.

Earlier in the year, totalcontent hopped onboard Eurostar to Brussels. This was to get the lowdown on Square, a massive, state-of-the-art international conference centre, which will be opening in 2009. Even in its unfinished state, there’s no mistaking that Square will become a major-league meetings place – the location, space and architectural ambition are quite something. We were charged with announcing and explaining the ambitious scheme in a brochure and series of ads designed by our friends at Why Not Associates. And we’ve since helped Square with naming its many auditoria and facilities rooms.


I’ve just been honoured with the most prestigious award you can get in the creative industries. An extraordinarily rare D&AD Gold. This once-in-a-lifetime accolade was awarded in the Advertising Posters category.

It was for my part in the National Gallery’s ‘Grand Tour’, an astonishingly inventive campaign masterminded by The Partners. This took framed, life-sized reproductions of Old Masters and hung them on walls across central London in the summer of 2007. I wrote copy for over 40 plaques to give context to each of the paintings. These needed to explain often complex allegorical scenes in just 100 words. And a no-nonsense style that would connect with the ‘man in the street’. Literally.

Hearty congratulations to everyone involved. Now where shall I park that precious black pencil?

The Royal Mail Year Pack is a whistle-stop tour through all the sets of British picture stamps published in the course of the year. You get a full set of all the stamps, plus a pull-out guide on the subject matter that inspired them.

totalcontent was asked to provide the commentary for the True North-designed pack, which meant delving into all sorts of arcane areas, from marine life and astronomy, to army uniforms and endangered species. Taking in Grand Prix and the Beatles along the way. 

It looks like we did a reasonable job – we’ve just been commissioned to write another Year Pack for 2008. Bring it on.

Storytelling, quite literally. This was a direct mail piece for accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward to alert clients to the range of useful publications it produces and to ask them which ones they’d like to receive in future. It was a chance to update BDO’s mailing lists and save on unnecessary paper and postage. totalcontent played fast and loose with the Jack and the Beanstalk story to create an enchanting business case for reading your way to the top. And it worked like a fairy tale too, with what the client described as ‘a fantastic response’ of 3000 replies to the mailshot.