Saturday, 20 August 2011

Playing Cards

So here's a thing I've been wanting to talk about for a while.

In my day job, I work for a small group of international colleges. There are a lot of different elements to what I do there - from designing brochures, print ads, leaflets and flyers, right through to designing actual signage within the colleges, getting branded umbrellas made for day trips... it's varied, to say the least.

One part of the business is persueding students to come to our colleges, and this is frequently done by trips abroad to meet education agents. Giving gifts is a fairly established part of this, right across the industry. These can range from branded pens and notebooks, to sweets, postcards, mugs, calendars, and many other such things. The main aim is for the gift to be both functional (so the agent will want to actually keep it in their office close to hand) and well branded (so they remember who gave it to them). An added bonus is if the gift can in some way promote the colleges at the same time.

Something I thought of a few months back was a branded deck of playing cards. Everyone loves playing cards - they encourage socialising, they're good for entertainment on trips abroad, they're small and easy to carry, and they have a lot of possibility for branding.

So we set to designing our very own pack of cards. One of the parts which I most enjoyed was designing the reverse of the cards. My attempts started out slightly pitifully - playing with the logo and trying to see if it made a good repeat pattern. Turns out... it doesn't. I spent quite a long time trying though!

This was probably the best I came up with, but still not brilliant.

This one looks like some kind of party gone wrong.

I decided it was time to go completely back to the drawing board, and started again from scratch. Here were some ideas...

After talking about it though, we decided the backs of the cards needed some kind of branding involved. I spent quite a while trying to shoehorn this into my existing designs...

But ultimately decided to go back to the drawing board AGAIN, and start from scratch. This was a good decision, because I produced these. Which, if I do say so myself, I really like.

This was the final design which we went with.

I also illustrated the box in a similar style, and an ace of spades and creepy joker. The rest of the cards featured a selection of photographs by our lead photographer Wayne, showing the whole spectrum of college life, from our summer camps, to our classrooms, to day excursions, all in delightfully vivid technicolour. If I'd had my way, I'd probably have liked to illustrate every single card, but the whole point of the project was to promote the colleges, and I think this was definitely an effective way of doing it. The pack functions both as a pack of playing cards, and as a portable photographic marketing tool.

So anyway... here are some shots of the final packs, which eventually arrived yesterday.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A blog which is, at least partially, not about me for once.

Well… Like I'm sure a vast majority of the country, I have been left reeling by the riots in London the last couple of nights.

At times like this, Twitter seems like both a blessing and a curse - during the day today, the rallying of Londoners to clean up the streets has been truly heartening. But late last night, hearing stories of muggings, friends of mine boarding up the fronts of their houses to try and stay safe, while links were posted to videos and pictures that sent shivers of horror down my spine… Well, sometimes I wonder if it would be better to switch off the TV, radio and internet, and just NOT KNOW what's going on.

But of course I could never actually do that.

It is depressing though, feeling so powerless. I found myself wishing I could take part in the clean up operation, donate clothes or food to the people made homeless... something to show solidarity.

Anyway, as the morning progressed, news emerged of the Sony warehouse burnt down in North London, taking with it the stock of a vast roster of small UK music labels - some of whom will really struggle to come back from this hit to their physical stockpile.

As the day progressed, there were rallying calls to help out these labels - either with a one off donation - or, better for both parties, by buying their music.

My good friends the 405 led the rallying call with this piece...
Where you can read a full list of the labels affected, and see 10 albums which the 405 personally recommend as good buys.

Inspired by them, I've decided to make my own list - and as I started looking into it, I was stunned to discover just how many of my favourite albums have been released by these labels.

I hadn't quite realised how much I love Warp Records either, as 6 out of 10 of these albums were released on Warp.

So without further ado, here's my list of 10 albums I would highly recommend you buy/download. It's just one small thing to help one small group of people affected by these senseless riots, but every little helps. Music is a huge part of my life, and this is both a selection of the music which makes me happy on a day to day basis, and me trying, in my own futile little way, to do something to help the amazing artists and labels behind it.

I've even made a Spotify playlist here, where you can listen to tracks from the albums I've recommended. 

1. Battles - Gloss Drop (Warp)
Probably my album of the year so far. Their first album 'Mirrored' (which you should also buy…) was widely critically acclaimed, but for me personally, this is a stronger overall piece. The final track 'Sundome', is a work of sheer brilliance, and the selection of guest vocalists is inspired, from the weird shouting of the Boredoms lead singer Yamantaka Eye, the lead single Ice Cream's Matias Aguayo, through to an unexpected cameo from Gary Numan.

2. Prefuse 73 - Prefuse 73 Reads the Books (Warp)
I've been really enjoying this album the last week or so. Glitchy, strange samples, but not by any means difficult listening. I don't know much about Prefuse 73, other than he seems ridiculously prolific - so I'm sure I'll be picking up more albums by him soon.

3. Bibio - Mind Bokeh
Unusually wistful electro, and with beautiful artwork - this is one I actually went out and bought as a physical CD - something I generally save for either highly anticipated albums, or beautiful artwork. This one was the latter, but the album itself is a huge grower too.

4. Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children (Warp)
One of my calming albums - appropriate for these troubled times! Slightly melancholy, eerie electro.

5. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (Warp)
This is one of my favourite albums of all time. Well, I know that's a bold statement to make given that it's only been out a year or so, but I've listened to it enough times to feel fairly safe in that conviction. Elaborate, unexpected and incredible, there's something new to hear every time. Don't be put off by the first 10 seconds. It gets easier and far far more beautiful. AND Thom Yorke guest vox on one track. What more could you ask.

6. Tyondai Braxton - Central Market (Warp)
Classical music, generally speaking, is not my thing. This is probably the closest thing to classical music which I enjoy, and I enjoy it a lot. There's an orchestra! It's incredible, seriously - definitely an album to listen to start to finish. The centrepiece 'Platinum Rows' is something quite magical. (Plus being the closest I'll ever get to taking the kazoo seriously as an instrument)

7. Four Tet - Pause (Domino)
I always associate Domino with Franz Ferdinand, so was surprised and pleased to discover Four Tet is also on their list of artists. I actually bought this album about 5 years ago… I remember, because I was still in sixth form, and bought it from Bangor Cob Records - best music store in North Wales! For some reason I barely listened to it at the time, and it's sat quietly on my hard drive, waiting for appreciation. Well, I appreciate it now - and would highly recommend you do too. Easier listening than his later album 'rounds'.

8. Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise (Rough Trade Records)
The album always reminds me of Alex (of Unstruck Fame) - it was him who recommended it to me. This is another calming album, but also uplifting. Hours have been spent walking by the sea listening to it.

9. Ratatat - LP4 (XL)
Instrumental bliss - and danceable as anything. I saw them live a few months ago, and they were an absolute delight. Some of the best video visuals I've ever seen at a live show too!

10. Tokimonsta - Creature Dreams (Brainfeeder)
I previously only knew LA based DJ Tokimonsta for her incredible mix compilations, but this EP which came out a couple of months ago shows that's she's a pretty impressive musician in her own right. Sparkly and uplifting electro, but without losing a slight sinister hint throughout.

If you've listened to the playlist but decided that I actually have dreadful taste in music, but still sympathise with the cause of the labels, then do make a donation using the following link, and check out the 405's article of all the labels affected, to see who you might like to support.

Support PIAS and independent Music

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Well, I did these this morning at work for a project it turns out we're not going to do any more. So I can share them with you here. Some vector portraits.
I initially produce them in black and white because it makes the process easier for my little brain, but I've also included the cyan versions I did later. Click to view big for extra-super-mega-ultra detail.

10 points* if you know who they both are. A further 10 points if you can guess how they're connected and why I drew them.

*points not redeemable for anything. Haha :)