Meeting My Design Heroes - Massimo Vignelli

I recently moved house. Living in Cape Town I have managed to built up a pretty good collection of local wine. One by one I pulled out each bottle from my old wooden wine rack (which I once saved from someone chucking out!!!) and covered them in bubble wrap, in preparation for the big move!

Within the collection was one very special bottle that I knew I would eventually re discover. I'm not sure that I will ever drink it. Not because of the wine inside (I don't even know what wine is inside!), but isntead for the memory of how I received it. The bottle has been over labelled with one that is beautifully designed and reads, "Massimo Vignelli 80th Birthday Celebration". When I eventually found the bottle I wiped away the light covering of dust and just stared at it for a moment, recalling my memories from the day that I met my design hero, Massimo Vignelli.

In 2009 I was offered the fantastic opportunity to live and work in Cape Town, South Africa. When my wife and I stepped on that plane from London to Cape Town, I had only signed up for a period of six month to a year as creative director of a start up business, to employ, mentor and grow a design studio. I would of never believed in my wildest dreams that over six years later we would still be here, let alone, also have our son born in the country. The business has also established itself and over the years we have picked up some pretty impressive clients.

I would also of not believed that I would get the great opportunity to meet (and in some cases even work with) some of designs most respected figures, but that is indeed what happened. Massimo Vignelli, Michael Wolff, Vince Frost, Neville Brody, Michael Bierut to name just a few!!!

In 2011 I had the great pleasure to meet Massimo Vignelli. He had been re branding one of South Africa's largest retailers who were also clients of the business that I had moved to Cape Town to work with. I had been kindly invited to Massimo's Cape Town leg of his 80th birthday party. It's not everyday you get to meet one of your heroes and this meeting will always stay with me.

Below is an article that I wrote back in 2011, the day after my meeting with Massimo...


I must say a huge thank you to the kindness of the Woolworths design and beauty team who are far more than just clients to me, but a team of guys who I have had the great pleasure to work alongside, learn from and have made some super friendships with over the past three years. It was thanks to them I got the invite to the Cape Town leg of Massimo Vignelli's 80th birthday party, that also coincided with the Design Indaba.

Massimo was another hero of mine that didn't disappoint. To hear him and his wife Lella speaking will always stay with me. The couple spoke with such grace and integrity, both looking so, so stylish.

The venue was Cape Towns 'Lookout bar', situated close to the V&A with amazing sea views and it was jam packed full with well known designers and industry leading figures, many who had spoken earlier at the design Indaba, including Pentagrams Michael Bierut, Coca-Cola’s vice president of innovation David Butler, VSA Partners Dana Arnett, title sequence designer Karin Fong and co-founder of Wolff-Olins Michael Wolf (also a hero of mine).

My expectation on meeting well known designers is that they will be temperamental and offish with me but more times than not, I am surprised to find that they are instead unassuming and friendly, more so in Massimo's case also hugely inspirational and motivating

As I walked up to Massimo, I would be lying if I didn't say that I felt just a little bit intimidating by his presence. It wasn't anything that he did but instead how I had viewed him. He was the creator of so many of the worlds most recognised brands and someone who I had studied and admired from afar since I discovered his work at secondary school. Some people admire celebrities of television, film or music but for me it was designers and their work and now there was Massimo, stood in front of me in his black turtleneck. After I introduced myself and our conversation began. He was interested in what I said and spoke with an enormous amount passion… Any intimidation I had suddenly receded and I began to really enjoy our conversation. I remember discussing his thoughts on hthe work he had done for the new Woolworths, about fonts, and a little about his book the Vignelli Cannon.

At 80 years old, Massimo's was still actively designing brand identities for some of the worlds largest companys. You only do that when your doing something that is your passion.. When you love it. I left our meeting inspired and hoping that I too will my work enough to also practice long after the time that many decide to retire.

If your a young or aspiring designer and you haven't read the Vignelli cannon, then your doing yourself a huge disservice. get yourself over to his website now and download it for free.

So we are almost at the close of 2011 and tickets are already on sale for next years Cape Town Design Indaba. Don't miss out. It's an incredible event, and who knows. You may get to meet some of your design heroes.



A Tribute to Prince - The Man Who Became A Symbol! Genius or Jerk?

You always know where you were when something really moves you…

After last nights tragic news of the sudden death of pop music icon Prince at just 57, I felt compelled to share how his contribution to music, art and design had touched my life.

Last night I tuned into one of my favorite internet radio shows and to my surprise, the station was playing back to back Prince tunes. It was out of character for this station, but I wasn’t complaining as Ive been a big fan of Prince over the years and continued to listen, wondering if the DJ had scored an interview with the Prince himself! For those of you who are not aware, Prince not only sang but also wrote many of music’s most recognised songs, from 'Nothing Compares to You', made famous by Sinéad O'Connor to The Bangles ‘Manic Monday‘ and Chaka Khan's ‘I feel for you’ (which originally appeared on his 1979 self titled album). The list of great songs written by Prince goes on and on!

As I tuned in, the aforementioned 'Nothing Compares to You' was playing, but by Prince performing the song he had written. This was of even more of a surprise to me as it’s fairly unknown that Prince wrote this tune and I often mention it to people who always look at me somewhat surprised. To this end, you seldom hear this track being played by Prince on radio. He not only wrote well-known songs for other people, making their careers, but also influenced a huge remit of musical talent, from the likes of Beck to Bruno Mars. This particular evening, the 21st April 2016, the amazing Prince tracks just kept coming and I turned up the volume and sat down to read. Suddenly the shows DJ came on the air and announces that tonight they were playing back to back tunes by the late and great Prince. It took a couple of seconds for my brain to really process what had just been said… The late Prince… He’s Dead!!!

As I said, you always know where you were when something really moves you…

It wasn’t the first time that the artist had moved me. I always remember hearing 'Purple Rain' for the first time. I was sat with my dad in the lounge of the house I grew up in the UK. It was Radio One’s top 40 on a Sunday night and the song had entered in the chart. From the moment the track started, my dad and I sat there on the living room floor, listening and without speaking. I could tell that the song had moved my dad and I remember him saying that it would be a big hit and would become a classic. My dad is a tough guy and for him to show emotion like that especially back then, meant it was something special! The song had also connected with me. Prince sang the song with such conviction but there was something more… something deep about it, the tune… the time… I couldn’t quite explain why it connected wth me in the way that it did… it just did! Seeing the effect on my father and then sharing it, added to the experience further. The song still moves me to this day and I will always have that memory. Music plays a huge part of my life and it’s not often that a song affects me in the way that Purple Rain did that day. Other songs from that album/film are also memorable, including another single ‘When Doves Cry’.

Also, going out clubbing with my best mate in the 90’s, Prince’s 'Get Off’ became something of an anthem for us. The dance floor would be packed and when I hear that song, it brings me straight back to that time growing up.

Someone like Prince, or David Bowie, who we also lost earlier this year, create music that becomes part of the fabric of our lives. As demonstrated above, their music creates memories within our lives.

So what about Princes contribution to design. Well he was a pioneer of modern text speak! 'I Would Die 4 U' was one of many examples within his lyrics, visual language and branding, long before we all had mobile phones and SMS. Lets also not forget that the man became a symbol for a while!!!

He was a great example of personal expression. From wearing suspenders and high heels in the video for his song 'Controversy', suits with clouds on for the video of 'Raspberry Beret', to the unique image he created throughout the 1980's, becoming iconic in the film 'Purple Rain'. He would often appear on album covers in a state of undress. From his self  titled 1979 album 'Prince' to 'Lovesexy' where he features in a provocative nude pose, released at the height of his fame in the 1988. That was the thing about Prince, he was completely unconventional and never sold out. He was a prolific song writer that would still be able to shock and surprise whilst maintaining something that was distinctly Prince! Like Madonna he was a Chameleon, changing his style and creating trend. Reports suggest that a huge back catalogue of unreleased material remains at his Paisley Park Studio.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I read a magazine called Sky. The magazines were basically a trend and celebrity monthly and I clearly remember one cover, featuring Prince with the tag line, 'Is he a genius or is He a jerk?' Maybe the writing of Slave on his face or hiding his appearance whilst in a legal battle with his record company (regardless of being paid millions) and becoming a symbol would probably account for such a tag as jerk or at least different, yet one could equally illustrate his genius!!! And wasn't his odd ball nature also part of his genius?

If you want to really appreciate the true lyrical genius of Prince then just listen to Sign ‘O’ the Times:

“In France skinny man died of a big disease with a little name. By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same. At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun, is being in a gang called The Disciples high on crack and totin' a machine gun...

Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside, u turn on the telly and every other story is tellin' u somebody died. Sister killed her baby cuz she couldn't afford 2 feed it and we're sending people 2 the moon. In September my cousin tried reefer 4 the very first time. Now he's doing horse, it's June.”

As I said... Genius...


Up In The Air / Views From The Red Eye & Exercising The Creative Mind

As the creative director of a branding and packaging design studio, I have to travel quite regularly. From meetings with clients, to colour passing and QC with print partners and manufacturers. I also live and work overseas in Cape Town, so I'm often flying back to the UK with my wife and my little boy to visit our family's. Were only into April and I can count at least fifteen flights this year already.

Yesterday morning I was on the red eye from Cape Town to Durban to work with one of our print partners, colour passing and QC on a new range of labels my studio have just designed. Ive taken the flight many times before, but yesterday something different happenned. For 40 minutes we sat, boarded on the plane as maintenance was carried out. This meant, when the plane finally took off, the sun was just begining to rise. As we rose higher, the view over Cape Town and Table Mountian was just breathtaking. I marvelled in awe at its absolute beauty. Street lights were still illuminated, the sky was a marvellous deep red yet there was a hint of light, allowing you to view the detail of buildings and community.

The red eye flight to Durban takes off at six in the morning so your out of bed at four to drive to the airport, park up and check in. As you can imagine, I am usually fast asleep by the time the flights in the air, especially when I consider the day ahead of me, stood over printing machines, checking colour, with a lot of company money at stake if the client rejects the job due to the colour not being spot on to other labels already in the brand. Today however, I was in absolute wonder of this fantastic view and just couldn't sleep!

I was so in wonder, that by the time I had thought about taking a photo and documenting and sharing this wonderfull vision, the plane had already turned in its course and my first image was looking the oposite way, towards the mountains beyond Stellenbosch. Following that initial realisation, I started to take a couple more shots through the window of the plane. They really are quite stunning and made me once again realise how much we miss each day if we get cought up in our day to day and dont take stock of those magic moments. If the plane had not been delayed and I had fallen asleep, I would of never seen this affirming visual. When mentoring or lecturing design, I often mention something that I call 'learning to unlearn'. It's basically about taking nothing for granted and to remember what it was like to appreciate things for the very first time. You can read more here if your interested. These moments are all such great mind exercises for ideation and creativity. You need to exercise creative thinking in the same way you would exercise when training for a sporting event like a triathlon. Make sure you really see and learn to re discover all that is around you. I would add that it's important to immerse yourself as much as you can in the industry of design and to read as much as you can on design to really find that joy and also excersise your creative brain!

Back in the day, I liked reading the David The Designer blog. Often written with wit and honesty, David himself stopped blogging about design a while back and has since filled his posts with images of his cycling trips. At first, the site didn't hold much interest for me, but as time went on I started to enjoy the articles, mainly as a Brit living in South Africa, it seemed like a small connection back to the UK. As I stared out of the window of the plane yesterday, I also thought that maybe David was really seeing on his bike rides and I guess his curiosity was another reason I liked to check in with his blog these days!

I really hope you like my images from the plane. It was such a beautiful morning and I find it so interesting how the land turns greener as we get closer to Durban. If your viewing this from overseas and have always wondered how it looks here in South Africa (or at least between Cape Town and Durban), I hope that it will be interesting for you!

It was a bit of a shame that I couldn't take a picture of that first view, looking over Cape Town, but sometimes things are better left as just a memory and often never translate well to photos anyway! BTW, I did manage a little sleep eventually on the plane and the press pass was a great success!

If you liked the post, please do let me know! Enjoy the images!!!



Adobe Design Achievement Awards

For the past three years Ive had the great honour of being selected as a mentor for the Adobe Design Achievement Awards. The mentorship program is oganised in collaboration with Adobe and ico-D (the world body for professional design, an international council that promotes the designer’s vital role in society and commerce that unify the voices of designers worldwide. Throughout my involvement, I have had the pleasure of mentoring some fantastic students that have gone onto successful design positions. More on the Awards and the Mentorship program below.
The Adobe ico-D Mentorship program is offered to any student who participates in the Adobe Design Achievement Awards competition (ADAA). The program is composed of the 5 I 5 I 5 Mentorship and the Portfolio Review. In this dual program, each mentor will select ten students from the ADAA participants who applied for the opportunity.

• One student is selected for the 5 I 5 I 5 Mentorship, which consists of 5 one-on-one virtual sessions that engage 5 predetermined objectives happening over the course of 5 months.

• The remaining nine students become part of the Portfolio Review, which provides incisive comments, advice, and feedback from the mentor about their work and practice.

The 5 I 5 I 5 Mentorship and the Portfolio Reviews can be very flexible, since they are carried out virtually. The pair creates their own agenda to ensure a mutually rewarding experience.

Submit a project to the 2015 ADAA contest and you may be chosen by one of our mentors to participate to the Adobe ico-D Mentorship Program.

The mentors are accomplished creative professionals from ico-D and Adobe's global network. They are passionate about launching the careers of the next generation.

If a mentor likes your work, you may be chosen for a portfolio review or mentorship, regardless of whether your project is selected for placement in the ADAA contest. Mentors can offer you portfolio and career guidance and may even give you opportunities to collaborate on projects.

The portfolio review provides advice and feedback from a Mentor about your work.

The mentorship: consists of 5 one-on-one virtual sessions based on 5 predetermined objectives over 5 months.

The Adobe Design Achievement Awards are very close to me. I won a similar Award, the UK's New Designer Award back, in 1994 and it really help me to establish myself within the industry and continued to enhance my design career for the years to follow.

With my full time role as creative director and being a dad, my blog may slow down for a little while whilst I immerse any downtime I have into my commitments to mentoring my selected students through the program. Its always an exciting time and I always get so much out of the program that I'm sure will go onto inspire more post to this blog in the near future. I have also just uploaded plenty of new articles to keep all of The design Life readers inspired until the mentorship program finishes for the year.


Sandeman 255th Anniversary Design

This limited addition design to celebrate the 255th anniversary of Porto’s Sandeman is just stunning. The attention to detail used in the design by agency Volta is incredible.

I love the use of type; breaking the serif on the brand name Seixo giving it some real identity. The finish is also beautiful, employing the use of embossed lettering and illustrative elements, texture paper stock and touches of gold foil.

On my recent trip to Bologna I came across these wonderful old Vintage Sandeman bottles that I couldn't wait to share with my branding and packaging design friends! I also thought very apt addition to this post. Of note is the 1977 Queens Silver Jubilee Edition, which brought back many fantastic memories of my family and where I was born in the UK!


Tokyo 2020 Games - Logo Contest Finalists


After a number of rigorous design checks, these are the shortlisted, final four logo's, chosen by the Games selection committee.

A. Harmonized chequered emblem

B. Connecting Circle, Expanding Harmony

C. Surpassing One’s Personal Best

D. Flowering of Emotions

Click here to visit the link, where you can read more on each selection.

Then, have your say! You can now help make the final selection by clicking here.


The World's Thinnest Laptop - The HP Spectre


Ok, so I am a graphic designer and yes that does mean I am an Apple user! Ive used an Apple all my professional life but as I was reading through the brand, design and technology news today, this stunning designed, new HP laptop was unavoidable to ignore.  Its styling and finishing is just stunning!

Here is what the HP website has to say: This is design and technology taken to a whole new level. Artisan materials and striking craftsmanship create an experience unlike anything else. With a uniquely stunning design 10.4mm thin combined with impressive performance with full Intel® Core™ i5 or i7 power2, the world's most luxurious laptop is completely irresistible.

Piston hinge design
Drawing inspiration from high-end furniture details, the stunning simplicity of the artfully-crafted piston hinge folds flush for a clean, nearly hingeless look.

Crafted with durable aluminum and carbon fibre, this impossibly thin laptop redefines perfection.
The world's thinnest laptop - Featherweight 13-inch laptop weighs just 2.45 pounds. 

Images from HP. Read more at the HP website by clicking here


Cosmoprof Bologna 2016 - Trend Report / Branding & Packaging Highlights

A good deal of my branding and packaging design projects are within the cosmetic and beauty industry and since 2003 I have been travelling to Cosmoprof and Cosmopack in Bologna, Italy. The fair is the Worlds largest beauty fair and is a the place to get an insight into the industry's newest fashions and trends.

Here are some of my brand and packaging highlights from this years Cosmoprof Bologna fair.

I felt really uncool at this years show. I was one of the only men without a beard and when I say beard, I mean a huge beard!  A whole industry has appeared over the past six months. Beard products!!!

I really liked the design for the global Cosmoprof shows. It reminded me of past Adobe identity's.


Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut

Michael Bierut is without doubt one of the most admired and respected designers of our time. Ive had the great fortune to meet Michael twice and both times I have walked away feeling incredibly inspired by his immense knowledge of design. Even with his notoriety and industry standing, he comes across as unassuming, humorous and with a great deal of warmth. He was a real pleasure to speak with about design. He has hosted the Cape Town's Design Indaba for many years and this is where on both occasions I had been lucky enough to meet him.

Micheal Bierut has won many design awards. He previously worked as vice president of graphic design at Vignelli Associates. In 1990 he joined Pentagram's New York office as a Partner where he continues today to run a team of designers, working across many disciplines of design.

I'm a huge fan of Michael’s work and achievements. I’m a regular visitor to the ‘Design Observer’ a website to which he was the founding writer. Bierut's book ‘79 Short Essays on Design’ is at pride of place within my bookshelf. Its a super book that you can either pick it up for a quick read or settle back for the afternoon with. Its one of those books that I never get bored of and I find myself going back to again and again. I often find myself mentioning parts of the book to my team and I am always suggesting they should go out and buy a copy for themselves.

An Overview of the book
A collection of essays by Michael Bierut, Pentagram partner, cofounder of the website Design Observer, and AIGA board member. Bierut is one of the best respected and most-beloved writers within the graphic design field, a spokesman for the profession, and a man pretty much universally admired within the academy and among practitioners. This collection includes writings from the 1980s through today.

Click here to order on Amazon.


The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

In 2014 we sadly lost one of designs true pioneers Massimo Vignelli. In 2011 I had the great pleasure to meet Massimo. He had re branded one of South Africa's largest retailers who were also clients of the business that I was creative director for. I had been kindly invited to Massimo's Cape Town leg of his 80th birthday that coincided with the Design Indaba. It's not everyday you get to meet one of your heroes and this meeting will always stay with me.

Vignelli was a master of design and employed the use of simplicity and restraint through the use of basic geometric forms. His broad, multi discipline body of work includes everything from, household products, packaging, way finding and signage, but is best known for his branding work for the likes of Bloomingdales, Knoll and United Colours of Benetton. Vignelli's principle was, "If you can design one thing, you can design everything,"

Vignelli moved to New York in 1966 and founded Unimark International, which became one of the largest design companies in the world. Here he designed the branding for American Airlines and the iconic signage for the New York Subway. In 1971 Vignelli founded Vignelli Associates with his wife Lella and where he was to employ Michael Bierut.

Massimo Vignelli's Cannon is a book for which I tell everyone that works for me in my design studio to read. I am often asked what fonts to use or how to use grids and this book is an essential handbook to refer back to. I can highly recommend what I call an essential handbook for any young designer entering into the industry.

An Overview of the book

The famous Italian designer Massimo Vignelli allows us a glimpse of his understanding of good design in this book, its rules and criteria. He uses numerous examples to convey applications in practice from product design via signaletics and graphic design to Corporate Design. By doing this he is making an important manual available to young designers that in its clarity, both in terms of subject matter and visually, is entirely committed to Vignelli's modern design.

If your a designer, then there really is no reason for not reading this hand book. Do yourself a huge favor and click here to download the PDF for free... Yes free!!!

Click here to order on Amazon.


Thoughts On Design By Paul Rand

More than any other book, this is the one that I suggest to all that I mentor or employ. Even after his death in 1996, Paul Rand is still viewed as one of the (if not the) most celebrated graphic designer(s) of our time. Although a skilled master at book and poster design, Rand is best known for his brand identity work, including his logos for IBM, ABC, UPS and Steve Jobs Company Next. Rand was one of the first American designers to use the clean 'Swiss Style' of graphic design. He was a professor emeritus of graphic design at Yale University and in 1972 was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame.


László Moholy-Nagy wrote of Rand: Among these young Americans, it seems to be that Paul Rand is one of the best and most capable [. . .] He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer, [and] advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless.

Rand’s book, Thoughts on Design is truly a masterpiece, which he wrote in 1947, aged just 33. A revised version was released in 1970 and then again more recently in 2014. Please click here to read an adapted version of Michael Bieruts forward to the 2014 edition, written for the Design Observer website. For me it's the perfect introduction to what Michael Bierut calls, "the best book ever written about graphic design." I couldn't agree more! Do yourself a favour and follow the link below to buy your copy.

An Overview of the book
One of the seminal texts of graphic design, Paul Rand's Thoughts on Design is now back in print for the first time since the 1970s. Writing at the height of his career, Rand articulated in his slender volume the pioneering vision that all design should seamlessly integrate form and function. This facsimile edition preserves Rand's original 1947 essay with the adjustments he made to its text and imagery for a revised printing in 1970, and adds only an informative and inspiring new foreword by design luminary Michael Bierut. As relevant today as it was when first published, this classic treatise is an indispensable addition to the library of every designer.

Click here to order on Amazon.