This is how we walk in the Whitney

All the talk on the ‘blogs’ of late has been about the new identity of the Whitney by Experimental Jetset. I’m currently reading their account of it, while listening to a new arrival – This is how we walk on the Moon, by Johanna Billing (with design by Åbäke). This bit of grotesquely bourgeoise name-dropping isn’t entirely without reason, as it made me think about the critieria against which design has to ‘work’, and against which it is increasingly ‘judged’, in a very public way, by an audience on twitter and at the reductive idiots convention that is Brand New (and similar).

While the new Whitney identity undoubtedly ‘succeeds’ against its own criteria, it’s been interesting seeing how many people have been enjoying reading the ‘great’ ‘concept’ and ‘rationale’ and explanation of ‘process’ on the Experimental Jetset website. Being written, as it is, by the designers, this will always be framed to explain how an end product makes sense in relation to the brief they were given by the client. I agree it is well written, and makes interesting reading, and the outcome undoubtedly presents a highly consistent, corporate, and business-like image of the Whitney as a contemporary art institution. But isn’t it more interesting to ask if that’s what an art institution (in the times in which we live) could and should be. Their own text doesn’t question (or reflect on) this, and in the identity, I don’t feel that anything is being challenged here. (I know it’s daft to make comparisons, but…) in contrast to the art-design work of Abäke (with its intriguing and sometimes confusing idiosyncrasies), I feel I want it to be more open to ambiguity, assimilation, augmentation and out and out assault (which may of course happen over time). The only concession to this comes in their sign off; “In the same way, we hope that future designers, working with the graphic identity we developed for them, will be able to use this identity as a platform for their own authorship – and to leave their own signature, their own fingerprint, within it. After all, a graphic identity could (and should) never be a machine, in which one simply ‘inputs’ an image and a title, and out rolls an invitation. It will always be a human process, in which the aesthetic and conceptual decisions made by the graphic designer play an essential role – a role that can never be skipped, or erased.” — But without completely abandoning at least part of the lengthy rationale that precedes it, I’m a bit unclear as to how this can happen.

This is not a negative reflection on the designers, all of whom are excellent and working in specific contexts and responding to specific demands, or the work which I like in some ways, but on the forces that come to shape design work. And a request that if we’re going to reflect on design identity work, lets do that, not just concur that they made a good job of writing up their own rationale about it.

And it also reminds me that I still haven’t written that Stedelijk post yet.

Le Musée des Erreurs


J’ai toujours aimé réaliser des œuvres qui nécessitaient un minimum d’interventions, j’ai dû hériter ça de Duchamp. Dans les années 1960, j’ai réalisé un petit collage autour du logo de “Braun”, que j’avais simplement transformé en “Brown”, une traduction phonétique de Braun en anglais. C’était une intervention minimale. » Richard Hamilton

from: Sainte-Victoire Corporate Identity



Free listening and learning


Big thank you to Eye Magazine for publishing this essay we wrote entitled Free listening and learning.

Creating and Managing Brand Value™

“What do marketing professionals and brand managers have to learn from an examination of the current state of Brand America? “

Fear Not. Interbrand IQ are going to tell us.

(In lieu of comment from us, we know you can make your own, but it’s essentially a similar argument and sentiment to this).

Both Tired and Tiring

We’ve stumbled upon the latest article, this time on, to elaborate on the increasingly myopic non-discussion around the demise of Creative Scotland and the cultural life and identity of Scotland. To me, the native/non-native argument seems so ridiculous as to not be worth bothering with, and has been dismantled by others elsewhere, meanwhile the political brand-wagon of the ‘Year of Creative Scotland’, coming as it does on the heels of the equally depressing, (and mismanaged) ‘Homecoming‘, gets away lightly.

Meanwhile, we’re working on getting, the app of the Voluntary National Assignment Agency, up and running. (You can read a bit more about it in Junk Jet no. 6). And once that’s running, all of the above seems irrelevant.

Regeneration Game

Not pulling its punches, with sideswipes at New Labours ‘criminal folly’ and a sardonic eye for every vanity of a modern architecture and politics in thrall to the ‘brand’, Jonathan Meades ‘on the brandwagon’ provided a really useful (and thoroughly enjoyable) watch prior to a discussion on the ‘regeneration’ of the East End of Glasgow in connection to the Commonwealth Games. Thanks to the excellent YouTube channel meadesshrine, you can watch this, and many other Meades programmes, in their entirety. With a great sound-track and withering bon-mots (“Are we looking at a monument to Frank Gehry’s limitless self-regard?”) it’s worth watching in relation to what’s going on in Glasgow, (thinking about the new transport museum in the context of ‘sight-bites’ and ‘three dimensional logo(s)’), the V&A landing on Dundee’s waterfront, and the following post (coming sometime soon) about the new Stedelijk.

Download This

The document to accompany the three screen film on ‘Identity’ is available here. Deft, succinct, artful, insightful.

Uniform Diversity

from Projects |


More here.

Going for Gold

With the Olympics in full swing, it’s a chance for the design community to re-heat some of the many arguments that have circulated about the brand design and identity of the 2012 Games. This recent easy-ride interview for Fast Company gives Wolff Olins a chance to say ‘told-you so’, and come out with some vivid brand double-speak in the process (the favourite of which has to be; “I don’t think dissonance means discord. It means an ability to be slightly off-center and still be cool – and actually means you’re cool because you’re slightly off center.”)

Elsewhere there have been overviews of the entire ‘branding package’, and there are still the myopic arguments being aired that this is not (and in fact nothing in the entire designed universe ever has been) as good as Munich ’72.

It seems that the most apparent issue is that in the contemporary games, speaking as someone who lives near to an olympic venue, there is so much branding of stuff – every ‘touch-point’ they would no doubt tell us, from the station signage, to the track numbers, to the incredible volume of advertising – that ‘design’ gets squeezed out at every turn, in favour of ‘roll-out’ (I don’t, to be clear, think these things are mutually exclusive, but they aren’t exactly the same either.) It also neglects that fact that this kind of thing (note this type of material is often missing from the fan-boy ’72 nostalgia-fests) could happen then (in 72), in a way that seems difficult to conceive of now, unless part of some kind of heavily strategised brand narrative. To wrap up, perhaps a word on the man who gave his name to that erstwhile branding establishment responsible for 2012, (a man who, in the words of Terry Eagleton, “one suspects would brand his own kneecaps if there was profit to be squeezed from it…”) – I think it would be a good time to revisit this analysis of OnBrand by Wally Olins.

Discussion Point #426

New from Gestalten: Taken by Surprise: Cutting-Edge(1) Collaborations between Designers, Artists and Brands(2).

(2) negates (1) we wonder?