Jim’s Cafe, Chatsworth Road E5, uprooted and relocated to Spitalfields, next door to globe-straddling competitors Starbucks, who also appear to be opening a shop on Chatsworth road. Still a bit of a refurb to do there…
For Darren’s High Street Mash Up workshop last week we each brought in photos of London high streets divided into two broad areas – the more affluent areas frequented by tourists and lunching office workers, and the common local high street, home to Turkish and Bangladeshi mini supermarkets and wholesale handbag suppliers. The shops fronts, signage, and advertising in the more affluent areas is more considered – brand managed – with a restrained use of colour and discreet typography. The local high street on the other hand appears to have developed organically, without the benefit of an aesthetic strategy or the input of professional designers – visual clutter, haphazard use of type and colour, plastic signs and grubby shutters. We reached the consensus that from a designer’s point of view the local high streets are no only more visually interesting, but also more effectively convey the character of the area and its population. It’s an obvious point, but not untrue – the more affluent high streets have had much of their individuality stripped away by brand managers employed by anxious investors afraid to deviate from their timid market research findings.
Interestingly, Chatsworth Road falls into a third category of high street: the road has experienced so little consumer traffic over the last couple of decades that many of the shops (even some of those still trading) have retained the signs and frontages from the 60s and 70s*. Composed of real materials – wood and tile (none of the plastic laminate signage that prevails through the borough) – and in muted colours, these signs possess a quality that many shops in more upmarket areas aspire to – bespoke, vintage, unique.
*Note this surviving display of giant Wrigleys chewing gum packets in the window of A. E. Barrow, a long-since closed tobacconists on Chatsworth Road.
Katharine Harmon’s excellent book You Are Here features many different kinds of map, some very old, others brand new. The thing they all have in common is the subjectivity and unconventional approach of the designers. Some function as political or religious propaganda, others as explorations of social or scientific theories. One that caught my eye was this cover of the American Phrenological Journal. Phrenology is a pseudoscience developed in Europe in 18th century Germany that became very fashionable in Europe and America in the 19th Century. Believed at the time to hold the key to understanding the human brain, the technique involved mapping the areas of the brain responsible for different character traits. It was, of course, all bullshit. But hypothetically speaking, if Hackney was person, what would its mind look like? A borough of great contradiction, where crime, poverty, unemployment, and health issues are a problem for many, the influx of money and gentrification from projects such as the East London line and Olympic developments look set to improve the standard of living, yet also threaten to out-price many residents and jeopardise the ethnic and cultural diversity that defines the borough. Here is my brief and highly subjective representation of the Mind Of Hackney, presented in an appropriately childish style, somewhere along the lines of Chris Ware meets People Are Germs.
In hazard warning yellow and black, here’s is my stab at recreating a Hackney Gazette headline without the original words. I haven’t shown it to many people yet, so the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the symbols. In addition to the Isotype system, I’ve been looking at pictograms from Michael Evamy’s World Without Words, and Otl Aicher’s classic series for the 72 Olympic games. This is the first time I’ve tried making pictograms or info-symbols. It’s not easy! As a designer, you have to rely upon convention and the prior knowledge of the reader. Many of the symbols below don’t inherently resemble human forms (for example, the figure skater, centre) but given the appropriate context, and thanks to a common recognition of the basic stick figure, we can understand the symbols and interpret the actions represented by them. So there’s another thing I’ve learnt – pictograms are easier to design when you can use stick figures.
Friends Of Type is a Brooklyn-based blog dedicated to playful and illustrative type. Run by Aaron Carambula, Erik Marinovich, Dennis Payongayong, and Jason Wong, with contributions also coming from many other designers, there’s a post every day or so, and while the quality varies a bit, there’s real imagination and some interesting techniques at work here.