Italian lesson... shared tastes, better results
So here it is, totalcontents very first foreign word of the week. Even if your Italians a bit rusty, youve probably figured out that antipatico* means roughly the opposite of simpatico, a word thats become common English parlance over the past few years. I say roughly, because actually it means “unpleasant, odious, unsympathetic or crabby”. But then, if someone fits that description, its highly unlikely youll be simpatico with them.

Recently Ive been finding that in a work context, like-mindedness is a real blessing. Of course you should be open, co-operative and respectful, whoever youre working with. But if you share similar interests and cultural reference points, its a real bonus and will only make for a better working relationship. It means you can develop a deeper understanding more quickly, youre more likely to enjoy each others company and be thinking along the same lines. 

But if youre antipatico, you simply wont be ordering from the same menu.

*Thanks to Paula at Form for introducing me to the word on Wednesday.

Damon Albarn clearly has his hands full collecting lifetime achievement BRIT awards and preparing for Blur’s Hyde Park show to mark the closing of the Olympics this year. (Or maybe he’s hastily booking some singing lessons.)

Anyway, it’s good to see Gorillaz collaborator and comic-book artist Jamie Hewlett is keeping the wolf from the door too. We particularly loved his quirky, inimitable London-thru-the-ages Absolut Vodka bottle design (available exclusively from Selfridges). And you can be sure my eldest will be saving his pennies for a pair of these limited-edition Gorillaz Converse All Stars. The business, if we may be so bold.

Most of the time, you complete a writing project and that’s the end of it, your words disappear off into the ether… but occasionally it’s good to know they’re out there actually doing the business for someone — quite literally.

Two brands we worked on a couple or so years ago fared well at this week’s DBA Effectiveness Awards. Chewits won a Silver in the Interactive & Digital category, while Bottle Green struck Gold in Packaging.

Port or starburst? You decide
While there’s been a recent a boom in niche independent magazine publishing, it appears to be  ‘time gentlemen please’ for the so-called ‘lad mag’. Loaded, which epitomised the 1990s phenomenon, reported a 30.2% year-on-year drop in sales, down to a paltry 34,505. At its height, 20-odd years ago, the title was selling over ten times that amount, at around 450,000 copies a month.

Mind your own biscuit... retrotastic packaging from Crabtree & Evelyn
Better late than never. Here's a project that I worked on with the wonderful Kate Shaw, Global Creative Director at Crabtree & Evelyn quite a few months ago. The words I contributed are pretty minimal, but I love the mad abandon of the packaging. Those flying Highland cattle on the shortbread pack in particular. The design was by Smith & Milton, but if the imagery looks familiar, that's because it had been used before back in the 1980s. This was C&E reestablishing its heritage by delving into its rich visual archive.

From Mark Farrow to Peter Saville, two designers from the same Factory. In the light of this week’s shenanigans at the FA, I though it would be worth revisting Saville’s recent redesign of the England football shirt. If you recall, the former Creative Director of the City of Manchester took the bold step of introducing some colour to the national team’s traditionally pristine white kit.

I dont know how Mark Farrow does it. Year after year, he produces standout graphic design, sweeping young pretenders aside in his majestic wake. If anyone wants a lesson in immaculate modernism, they should look no further than Format, his latest collaboration with pop stalwarts Pet Shop Boys.
Strip off the old block... Farrow pulls another rabbit out of the hat
A collection of obscure B-sides and rarities spanning 1996 to 2009, Mark has used the coloured spines of the original release formats to inform the stripy illustration on the cover. A graphic device, of course, that harks back to previous PSB releases, notably 1998s Introspective and 2008s Yes.

(By the way, there are some great song titles on Format The Truck Driver and his Mate, Sexy Northerner, Were All Criminals Now, I Didnt Get Where I Am Today, and Gin and Jag.)

Like Peter Saville at Factory Records or Vaughan Oliver at 4AD, a long-standing, hugely productive relationship has helped Mark develop a formidable house style for PSB. But its his perfectly judged graphic restraint and ferocious attention to detail that always sets the work apart. Design critic Adrian Shaughnessy believes Farrow was the first record sleeve designer to master the art of designing for CD, a bold but justifiable claim.

I was lucky enough to get to know Mark in the 1980s, just after hed come down from Manchester and was working in a small studio above a shop in Neal Street, Covent Garden. At the time, he was working closely with restauranteur/entrepreneur Oliver Peyton (still a client) on press ads for Sapporo Japanese lager. It struck me that Marks work is like sushi – delicate, dextrous and extremely tasty.

After a 20 year hiatus, I’ve invested in a new needle and some cleaning fluid, and started buying vinyl again. The first thing you notice is the sky-high price — around £20 for a new album, as opposed to £9 for a CD or £7 for a download. But you forget how much richer and more satisfying the whole experience is.

The vast expanse and beauty of the sleeve; the ritual of undressing the black stuff and placing it in the turntable; the indulgence of listening to a whole side as opposed to the usual fickle flicking from song to song. You actually listen to the music rather than consume it. You give it more attention, approach it with far more generosity of spirit.

And I’m lucky that there’s a half decent Oxfam Books and Music store near me. Last week, seemingly waiting for me, were two of my favourite-ever albums — Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ and ‘Innervisions’. I’ve never owned them on vinyl before, as I didn’t have much opportunity or cash to buy records when I was at school.

Written discreetly in biro inside the gatefold of ‘Innervisions’ is a date — ‘3 March 1975’. There’s something terribly touching to know that this physical artefact meant something to someone out there, that there’s a story attached to it. It’s been very well looked after, I can tell you that much.

Have a think about that next time you download 89p’s worth of soulless music data from iTunes.

Wonderwall... what goes around comes around