Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

Design

A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Calligraphic Correspondence

What a pleasure it must be to receive a letter from the designer Frank Ortmann (c.f. here), if the calligraphic correspondence received by printer Martin Z. Schröder is anything to go by. (See here & here.)

December 5, 2016 12:30 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

A Handsome Hamsun

Book design is a craft sadly neglected in the English-speaking world. In paperbacks, the French reign supreme, while the Teutons and Scandos design the most elegant hardcover books.

This German edition of Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s biography of Knut Hamsun was designed by Frank Ortmann for Landt Verlag, founded by the conservative popular historian Andreas Krause Landt (aka Andreas Lombard). Landt Verlag is now an imprint of Thomas Hoof’s Manuscriptum publishing firm. Hoof is better known for starting Manufactum, the retail company known for offering high-quality goods made through traditional methods.

I’ve never read any Hamsun myself though he has been strongly recommended by friends with reliable tastes. This Norwegian writer is widely read amongst the Germans but not so amongst the Anglos, and perhaps not surprisingly since he was an uncompromising Anglophobe and had praise for all things German.

Anglophobia was not his worse offence – a Nobel laureate, he ended up giving away the actual medal as a gift to Goebbels – but no less an unquestionable anti-Nazi than Thomas Mann hoped that “the stigma of his politics will one day be separated from his writing, which I regard very highly”.

The designer Frank Ortmann impressed the name of the publisher by incorporating letter-L initials into the rather Hellenic ornamental frame of the book. He’s also managed to banish the dreaded and ubiquitous barcode to a little banderole which also includes a short introductory text, preserving the visual integrity of the book itself.

November 15, 2016 11:45 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Party in the Overberg

Alongside a bazaar, a braai, and dancing, a speech by Sir De Villiers Graaff is the selling point of this poster advertising a United Party (Verenigde Party) get-together in the beautiful Overberg region of the Cape.

“Sir Div” was the inheritor of one of only twelve South African baronetcies and led his party from 1956 until 1977 when it merged with the Democratic Party of verligte ex-Nationalists to form a new entity.

The broadly centrist party had lost power to the republican Nats (creators of apartheid) in 1948, and suffered splits that led to the creation of the Liberal Party and the United Federal Party in 1953, the National Conservative Party in 1954, and the Progressive Party in 1959.

The party’s emblem was a happy little citrus tree.

October 12, 2016 3:45 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

A Fifty Pound Note

The recent arrival of the new fiver has caused some flurry of excitement and one of the notes finally reached the Cusackian exchequer via the barmaid at the Ox Row Inn in Salisbury on Friday night. I’m indifferent to the design; it’s inoffensive but I’d prefer to see Churchill depicted in his coronation robes rather than Yousuf Karsh’s iconic photograph.

My favourite Bank of England note, however, remains the Series D £50 first issued in 1981 designed by the Black Country artist Harry Eccleston. Sir Christopher Wren lookings crackingly baroque, and St Paul’s Cathedral looms like a great ship over the City of London he helped to rebuild after the Great Fire 350 years ago.

Eccleston was the first banknote designer to work fulltime for the Bank of England which he joined in 1958, retiring in 1983, and introduced the concept of historical figures from British history gracing the back of the notes (which are of course fronted with an image of the Sovereign). This particular note was the first fifty-pound note to be issued since 1943. It was replaced in 1994 and withdrawn from circulation two years later.

September 28, 2016 2:10 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Norway’s New Passport

The Scandos are known for being among the few peoples who can do modernism well, as evidenced by the new design chosen for Norway’s passports and identity cards. The kingdom’s Directorate of Police called upon the services of Oslo-based multi-disciplinary design studio Neue after their ‘Norwegian Landscapes’ won the jury’s first prize in an open competition.

The final judgement argued ‘Norwegian Landscapes’ was the best concept:

“It illustrates the Norwegian identity as well as making sure the passport will be viewed as a document of high value. The concept is deeply rooted in Norwegian culture and will make the documents widely accepted among the population. It will remain relevant for many years to come and it has clear user benefits.”

“The design is attractive and stylish, the colours are subtle and the abstracted landscapes are exciting. The proposed solution seems to be designed with great emphasis on the function of passports and ID cards, and is immediately accepted as a document of high value.”

“The concept is the competition’s most subtle and stylish, and stands out from the competing entries. Aesthetically, the landscape motifs have achieved a very distinctive expression. The jury appreciates the simplicity of the solution.”

(more…)

September 20, 2016 12:40 pm | Link | No Comments »

Master Mitsui’s Ink Garden

Daniel Mitsui is one of the most interesting artists out there, exhibiting a wide range of influences from the Celtic to the Oriental. Among his latest works is an ink drawing on a Catholic theme. As Daniel explains:

I received a commission to create a Catholic religious drawing in a Chinese style. These explorations into artistic traditions outside of European Christendom are always exciting, and China was new territory for me. When developing the concept for the project, I looked to one of the early missionaries to China, the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci.

Some time in the very early 17th century, Ricci gifted four European prints to the Chinese publisher Cheng Dayue: two engravings by Anthony Wierix from a series illustrating the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, another by the same artist reproducing the painting of the Virgin of Antigua in Seville Cathedral, and one by Crispin De Pas the Elder from a series illustrating the life of Lot.

Master Cheng copied these images into his Ink Garden, a model book of illustrations and calligraphy. The missionary saw this as a good opportunity to disseminate lessons in Christian doctrine and morality among the Chinese population.

Continue reading here.

April 4, 2016 7:05 pm | Link | No Comments »

Frankfurter Hefte

German typography and print design in the 1950s combined elegance and simplicity, as shown here in the front cover of Frankfurter Hefte, the political monthly founded by Eugen Kogon and others in 1946. (more…)

February 16, 2016 6:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

New Yorkers: See New York!

Old-School Ads Employed for City’s Internal Tourism Campaign

NYC & Company, the official tourism and marketing board of New York City, has cottoned on to the fact that in such a vast metropolis many parts of the city are virtually unknown to the natives of whichever particular borough.

They recently launched the ‘See Your City’ campaign encouraging New Yorkers to visit places perhaps less familiar to them within their own city. Part of the campaign involves the above series of posters for display in bus shelters.

The style evokes old-school travel posters of the 1920s & 30s, and NYC&Co commissioned one for each of the five boroughs.

Elsewhere: Adweek | New York Times | Untapped Cities | NYCgo

October 16, 2014 8:28 pm | Link | No Comments »

The Crowned Banner

The Emblem of the Scottish Parliament

Legislatures often have their own symbols. Often these are appropriated or stylised versions of national emblems. Stormont uses a flax plant. Some time ago Westminster adopted the Tudor portcullis which now represents the Parliament of the United Kingdom — in green for the Commons or in red for the Lords.

In Scotland, however, the unicameral parliament has adopted a crowned banner as its distinctive insignia. (For previous posts on prominent emblems of modern Scottish design, see the Clootie Dumpling and the Daisy Wheel). The crown expresses authority — ultimately the sovereign power of the monarchy — while the corded banner hanging from a pommelled pole displays the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag. While early versions of the emblem were in blue, it is now standard that the symbol be depicted in purple, long a colour associated with Scotland through the national florae of heather and thistle. (more…)

January 27, 2014 1:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

A Bunny Rampant

The carto-heraldic creativity of MacDonald Gill

If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.

“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).

The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.

January 5, 2014 11:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Two Flags Based on the French Tricolour

The French tricolour is one of the most influential flags in history, inspiring most prominently perhaps the Italian and Irish flags, but also dozens other, including the nationalist triband flags (like those of Germany, Russia, etc.). Indeed, the national flags of nearly sixty UN member states are based on these vertical or horizontal stripe combinations.

While long identified with revolution, republicanism, and nationalism, the French flag originally represented a combination of the blue and red of Paris — the colours of Saint Martin and Saint Denis — with the white of the French monarchy. Two (non-national) flags based directly on the French tricolour are those of the Acadians in North America and of Franschhoek in South Africa. (more…)

December 27, 2013 4:24 pm | Link | No Comments »

Danzig in Flag & Arms

The first time I met my friend Rafal, I noticed his necktie bedecked with a subtle heraldic pattern. “I gather you’re German,” says young Cusack, summoning his Sherlockian deductive genius. “What makes you say that?” “The coat of arms on your tie: it’s Danzig.” “Actually I am Polish, and it’s Gdańsk!”

Well, so much for my deductive powers, (and Rafal is a secret wannabe-German anyhow) but the arms and flag of the Baltic city — once German, now Polish — combine the usual strong characteristics of any design: simplicity and beauty. (more…)

April 26, 2013 2:30 pm | Link | 11 Comments »

The ingenuity of eighteenth century furniture

The Metropolitan Museum is hosting an exhibition, Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens, that continues for just a few days more. The show looks at the work of Abraham Röntgen and his son David, whose workshop created the most extraordinary pieces of furniture. A few of them are presented here in videos: above, a secretary cabinet, and below, a writing desk, dressing table, and automaton of Marie Antoinette. (more…)

January 11, 2013 9:37 am | Link | 3 Comments »

The Iconography of Party

Taking into account the important aesthetical nature of politics, it might be worthwhile taking a sweep round the political parties to see what their emblems, logos, and symbols look like. (more…)

April 30, 2012 9:20 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

South Africa Gets Personal with Banknotes

New series will feature face of former president Nelson Mandela

South African President Jacob Zuma recently announced that the country’s central bank would issue a new series of banknotes featuring his world-famous predecessor, Nelson Mandela. As the South African Rand is a widely used currency throughout southern Africa, its banknotes have become well-known throughout the region, and current international standards recommend banknotes change their security features every seven-to-ten years. The changeover will take place as the South African government makes a significant investment in the state-owned South Africa Bank Note Company which also prints banknotes for a number of neighbouring countries. SABN hopes to upgrade its printing facilities to take into account the most recent improvements in banknote security features in order to prevent counterfeiting.

I’ll rather miss the old notes (above), branded into my memory from my time living in South Africa. For some reason (the exchange rate, perhaps?) I have nought but happy memories of the Rand and always enjoyed the beautiful animals in a variety of colours printed on the notes. While Mandela will feature on one side of the new issue of notes, the ‘Big Five’ game animals will continue to grace the reverse. The inoffensive animal theme was introduced to keep the currency relatively apolitical, and despite the widespread admiration for Mandela across South Africa, the introduction of the former president’s visage on bank notes is another symbolic way of imprinting the ANC’s grasp on power into the population’s psyche.

As for myself, being obsessed with everything Cape Dutch and Afrikaans, I rather miss the old image of Jan van Riebeeck which once graced South Africa’s rand notes.

March 4, 2012 7:04 pm | Link | No Comments »

FAZ and the art of newspaper web design

There is a certain pleasure in reading newspapers: the feel of the paper in your hands, the comfort of a seat in a café, the wide panoply of stories arrayed before you. Newspaper websites, on the contrary, are generally horrible. They are usually outrageously ugly (the Scotsman‘s website is particularly poor) and neither well organised nor designed with the proper aesthetics in mind. You might remember that the Times of London redesigned their website just before making it totally inaccessibly. I enjoyed their redesign at the time, but upon further consideration it seems a bit insipid.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, widely regarded by correct minds as the best newspaper in the world, engaged upon a wholesale redesign of their website, faz.net, in October of last year. Like the newspaper itself, there is a fine attention to detail, and I think FAZ might just take the biscuit for best online presence for a newspaper. (more…)

March 4, 2012 7:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

State Flags Considered

The famous Matthew Alderman provoked a disputation on Facebook the other day regarding amongst other things (jousting got a mention) the relative merits of U.S. state flags. I touched upon this subject previously in a post discussing the arms of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when I noted the lamentable tradition in American state flags is for the state seal or emblem to be presented on a blue field. Overall, I have to admit that Maryland has the best flag of any U.S. state: it is heraldic, relatively simple, and overwhelmingly traditional. The Facebook commenting led to an all-out war of annihilation between a lasse of Virginia and one of Maryland on the relative merits of their respective state flags. Right as it is for Virginians to defend the great inheritance of their fair dominion, there is simply no contest here: Maryland’s flag is the overlord.

Just look at Virginia’s (above) state flag! A total yawn-fest, I’m afraid. State seal on blue — how original. It would be far better if they took their ancient coat of arms and followed Maryland’s example by using a banner of arms. In Virginia’s case that would mean a red Cross of St George with the crowned shields of Scotland and Ireland in two quarters and of the quartered French & English arms in the other two quarters. Very handsome.

I don’t really like many other state flags (my geboorteland of New York is no exception: once again a banner of its arms would be much more handsome). Of the few I do enjoy, California rakes highly. It has a certain panache, and the words ‘California Republic’ are a healthy reminder of wherein lies the sovereignty. And interestingly, if the Soviets ever take California (“You mean they haven’t?”) they wouldn’t have to change the flag at all, as it already has a red star.

New Mexico’s is admirably simple and different, but one does worry if it’s a bit too simple: the Zia sun symbol veers eerily close to being a corporate icon. The uber-trad proposal would be to replace it with the yellow-field Cross of Burgundy.

The flag of South Carolina also gets an honourable mention, with its comely combination of palmetto tree and crescent moon. Rendered in red and white instead of blue and white, it is the flag of the Citadel, South Carolina’s military college.

February 21, 2012 8:00 pm | Link | 16 Comments »

Ireland’s Viceregal Throne Replaced

This sort of thing is devised simply to raise Cusackian hackles: having been used in every presidential inauguration in the history of the State until now, Ireland’s viceregal throne (above, left) is being replaced as the presidential chair. Supposedly it had become “a bit natty”, and no-one in the Office of Public Works knew so much as a single decent furniture restorer to get it back into condition. Scandalous! Its successor (above, right) was commissioned from furniture designer John Lee, and is rather new rite, as they say in London Catholic circles. (more…)

November 11, 2011 8:44 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

An-Nahar Redesign

We don’t pay much attention to newspaper design in the Middle East as their newspapers do not often show up on our radar. Al-Ahram still has a certain cachet, and I’ve always had a soft spot for L’Orient-Le Jour despite its ugly design mostly because I love their doubly old-fashioned hybrid nameplate. The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar recently underwent a bit of a redesign which might be worth taking a brief look at. (more…)

October 23, 2011 8:02 pm | Link | No Comments »

Visit Denmark

Having previously explored the world of Finnish travel posters, I happened to come across various posters advertising the happy kingdom of Denmark, whose current monarch is a Cambridge-trained classical archeologist, vestment designer, and published Tolkein illustrator. Click the little numbers to view the posters.

Previously: Come to Finland

October 11, 2011 10:00 pm | Link | 7 Comments »
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