GDF – S2 – 2011

Conduct research / Evaluate the nature of design in a specific industry context

Ideas in Graphic Design Today

by tom

I’m going to look at what some of today’s leading designers think constitutes design, ‘good design’ and terrible design. I want to look at what informs their decisions through the creative process and how design today is different to yesterday.

I’ve done a small amount of research and it seems that discussions about type elicit the strongest views. I have a feeling this is because type as an expressive medium is so restricted designers are forced to make serious intellectual choices about what it means to have a variation in ascender width – sort of like how in the helvetica doc people interpreted the type socially, politically, ethically ect and arrived at completely contradictory viewpoints.

So I’m going to start looking at type design today as an entry point into the broader question of what ideas are underlying design today.

Packaging: A Matter of Taste

by tom

I don’t like packaging. I think It’s commercialism made more distasteful with the prevalence of current environmental issues, that preys on the average consumer’s fetish for novelty. The cycle continues. What I do like is design that uses  less and achieves more, effective, wholesome branding, packaging that defers to the product and is innovative in its use of materials. So I’m going to provide examples of both.


I think these are great examples of branding. Simple and honest. The packaging is equivalent to and doesn’t subordinate the product. When we see companies constantly trying to outdo each other home brand aesthetics remain the same. They either have a sense of integrity when it comes to packaging or their market research tells them that there will always be Aussies scrounging around for a bargain.  I like the B and G better than the HB. The white and red says ambulance/hospital/industrial to me. Industrial food is not a stretch here though.

I think there’s something wrong if you buy something and end up with more package than product. Electronics are a big offender when it comes to packaging excess.

I know everybody loves the whole Apple thing, but they aren’t immune from global concerns. There is too much packaging here. One one hand I love the way this company brands and creates a perceived value in its product – and packaging is one way it does this – but I think this is a little over the top. I read there was something like 27 designers that had the recent iphone box/package patent attributed to them. Apple does report on their website that they are improving their processes and making a strong commitment to a cleaner future.

The recently proposed tobacco packet legislation poses some interesting issues – how necessary is packaging – what is the effect of removing brand labels? It seems to me that doing away with packaging would lend more emphasise to the product. I don’t know where to stand on this issue. I think companies should have the freedom to brand their product but I like the fact the government is making decisions that conflict with corporations.

For some reason I remember this tea packaging, the colour coding, the contrast of the tin and the natural character of tea. I guess the tin is quite recyclable. I really don’t know enough about modern materials and sustainability. T2 have since launched quite a few variants of their packaging. Really strong branding – that’s how I’ve remembered it.

Vodka bottles seem to receive a lot of attention these days. Generally I like most of the design because it revolves around a purity that depending on the brand enters sophistication. Purity is reflected in the design. I think the Absolut branding is so strong but I’m not a fan of the studded leather superfluity. I came across this samurai vodka and I thought it was a good take on idea of ‘cutting your vodka’.

When I go to people’s houses and they have a lot of DVD box sets I’m amazed at the way they feel they have to own certain products. Congratulations to the marketing department for this atrocity. I’d give it a year on your shelf max before this looks like some novel relic. That being said I’m sure this got peoples attention and shifted some units. Beware of companies that substitute package for product.


This was the first example that I’d seen that made use of bottle’s transparency which has since been copied a few times. Great idea.



Info-Graphics and Visual Journalism

by tom


Overexposure to media and information creates a demand for order and sense.

Data from sources of authority, whether it be population figures in a newspaper article, or a politician citing spending figures have a limited context and unless one, has a phD in statistics, economics, international relations and carries around a calculator it is no easy task to extract meaning from the numbers.

Info-graphics/graphic journalism/data-maps are a means of finding threads of logic and in an otherwise meaningless super-abundance of data. Figures are obsolete without context.



A saturation of media and information is one reason why IGs are so effective, another is their potential to turn established facts on their head.

As communicators graphic designers know how information can be tweaked and distorted to serve a purpose, agenda or maybe just a brief. Data presented by editors, corporations, politicians, teachers and even friends can be manipulated into certain directions.

An article that cites a figure or emphasises a particular point creates the impression that certain facts are concrete but rather they are elastic and completely dependant on representation.






It’s rare to find a detailed spreadsheet or anything beyond a rudimentary graph in print media, data is analysed and key figures are selected for presentation. Analyses of figures become facts. Sometimes figures cited in articles and speech can be reductionist to the point of misrepresentation.




Gs can allow readers to make the analysis themselves and draw their own conclusions from the raw data rather than passively absorbing editorial content.

The key difference between mainstream media and IGs is the ability to compress large amounts of data into a singular macro-representation. A well-designed IG has a clarity and breadth of focus that can cut through distortion by selective near-sightedness facilitated by the limits of traditional media communication.

It doesn’t look like there is much of an Visual Journalism presence in Australia. In the UK the Guardian has an excellent dedicated data-blog and the Telegraph has data journalist that supplies graphics and analysis on international and local issues with a range of quality.

BP and the Rise of Sustainable Rebranding

by tom

British Petroleum relaunched its brand in 2000 as ‘Better People, Better Products and Beyond Petroleum’. The rebrand was designed to reflect a growing environmental concern.

 A brand relates to the fundamental values of a company of which the logo is a mere representation. To what extent was BP actually rebranded?

Was this prompted by people’s environmental concerns about BP or a genuine shift in direction from within the company?

Environmental concern has been steadily growing for many years and has had an increasing presence in the political agenda. Environmentalism, sustainability and social responsibility have all been absorbed into mainstream society. Is this a change in corporate values or elaborate marketing? Corporations such as BP have not neglected to align themselves with ethical practice and have reinterpreted their logo and focus to meet changing consumer demands.


 The BP shield was replaced by the ‘helios’, the sun god of Ancient Greece and features a Fibonacci pattern invoking a sense of organic order and harmony. The colours and symbolism reflect a sustainable disposition whilst remaining relevant to the idea of energy. The new logo retains BP’s trademark green and yellow and introduces and intermediate yellow green and white.

BP is currently developing parts of Russia for oil production. It also states in its company report that it is working on biofuel technology as well as developing solar and wind initiatives.

Australian based resource group BHP following a merger with Billiton shed its rigid corporate logo in favour of an organic freeform reflection of its diagonal lines. Interestingly it is more representative of BP’s product. The new tagline reads ‘resourcing the future’ and similarly to BP emphasizes the future.

Hamburger Eyes. Tom

by tom


Hamburger Eyes is a photography journal/book published on a casual basis somewhere between annual and bi-monthly.  The contributors are both professional and amateur. Hamburger eyes started in San Francisco in early 2001 as a copied photo zine of no more than a few pages. Today it is appears about twice a year and as a publisher also prints solo photographers work in the hamburger eyes format as well as smaller collections in a zine format. HBE is printed on glossy stock in black and white with no text apart from the title and credit.


As a journal it captures the implicit moral, political and social contradictions of modern life and the industrial world, and results in a subversive document of mainstream culture.  The content is documentary in style with a focus on the contemporary experience and the contradictions of globalisation and urban living. It works with a raw and unrefined aesthetic that lends itself to a gritty interpretation of the documentary. The photographs appear as glimpses of meaning in an otherwise fleeting industrial reality.  Many of the photos would be excluded from mainstream media for reasons or censorship or politics because of its overt content relating to poverty, drug use, nudity, protest and vandalism. HBE champions images that contrast with traditional photographic and visual ideas of beauty and perfection and offers an alternative to that mainstream image that tend to idealism and marketing. Because of its raw style and subversive content often the work will lapse into petty fetishism featuring some object of the everyday rather than the capturing of an sublime moment that sprawls with visual narrative and resounds with metaphor.