Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Tom Browne: every dot counts

April 21, 2014

RULES AND ETIQUETTE OF GOLF: A ball lying in the fork of a tree must be played, or the player will lose a stroke – Tom Browne cartoon for the Tatler

Tom Browne was one of the best black and white artists working the the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. He went out to work at the age of 11 as an errand boy in Nottingham and became apprentice to a lithographic printer where he began to do illustration jobs on the side.

At the age of 21, he moved to Fleet Street and established his reputation with the Weary Willie and Tired Tim cartoon for Harmsworth’s Illustrated Chips from May 1896. His fat and thin tramps carried on into the 1950s (in the hands of other illustrators) and no doubt had a hand in triggering later generations of tramp pairings, such as Laurel & Hardy (first film together in 1921), Samuel Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot (1953) and television’s Bootsie and Snudge (1963).

It’s the details in Browne’s work that count and took him out of cheap comics into the society weeklies such as Punch and Tatler and made him such a hit in the US, in papers such as the New York Times. The Tatler cartoon here is a classic example.

Consider the faces on the dynamic duo hauling up the tubby golfer: just a couple of dots for eyes and a few lines for the features. Yet, look closely and you can immediately tell which way they are looking – one at the golfer and the other at the reader.

Truly, every dot counts.

Tom Browne drawing detail

Tom Browne’s drawing show incredible attention to detail; he could do so much with so little













Louis Wain – cats, frogs and his sister

March 27, 2014
Felecie Wain illustration from Home Notes - Louis Wain's mother

Anthropomorphised frogs from Home Notes by Felecie Wain – Louis Wain’s sister







Louis Wain became famous to Victorians for his humanlike – anthropomorphised – animal drawings, particularly cats, which were widely published, as magazine illustrations, books and cards. He was ‘the man who drew cats’. The image above is from a children’s page in C. Arthur Pearson’s popular women’s weekly Home Notes in 1899, at a time when the prodigious Wain contributed at least a drawing an issue to this magazine alone. However, it is by ‘Felecie Wain’, Louis Wain’s sister, who was also known as ‘Felice’.

Frog tableaux were popular at the time and Dickens had a small statue of sword-fighting frogs on his desk as Gad’s Hill when he died.

According to a Margate newsletter, Wain moved to the neighbouring seaside town of Westgate in 1894 with his four sisters and mother at the suggestion of Sir William Ingram, who lived there and owned Illustrated London News (founded by his father in 1842). Wain’s wife had recently died and Ingram also owned Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, where Wain had worked since 1882. The newsletter shows photographs of Wain’s homes and the graves of both his mother and Felecie.

The image below is a drunken Wain cat held by the V&A Museum.

Louis Wain cat out on the razzle

Louis Wain’s ‘Hallo there! We won’t go home till morning’ showing a cat out on the razzle



Family Herald – ‘The World’s Premier Weekly Magazine’

March 22, 2014
Family Herald title from 1935

Family Herald title from 1935

‘The World’s Premier Weekly Magazine since 1842′ is the grandiose claim still made in 1935 below the title of Family Herald Magazine almost a century after its launch.

Quite a claim for a magazine that had seen launches such as Home Chat, Home Notes and Woman’s Own in that time. What justifies the hyperbole?

Family Herald was a pioneer of the fiction-based penny women’s weekly formula when it was launched by the publisher George Biggs. The secret of its success was that its production was mechanised – from typesetting through printing to binding. With mechanisation came speed – and labour disputes because Biggs employed women workers – but ultimately high volume sales. By the middle of the 19th century, it was claiming a sale of 300,000 a week and was one of the best-selling cheap weeklies. The price went up to 2d – but stayed at that level till it closed in 1940.

The grand claim is based on the word ‘premier’, meaning ‘first in importance, rank, or position’. In 1935, it could hardly make the claim of the highest sale and its production values would have looked cheap in the extreme against the like of Newnes’ Woman’s Own, which called itself ‘The family favourite’ (and ‘the world’s finest weekly paper’ when it switched to colour gravure in 1937). However, its standing in the world of magazines was well established and its pioneering history could justify the claim, which, not being based on an objective statement, such as sales or number of pages, was difficult to challenge.

Family Herald cover 1935

Family Herald 1935: illustration and the blue ink were limited to the cover in its 20 newsprint pages

Despite its claim, by 1935 Family Herald was on its last legs, running to 20 pages on newsprint with the only colour being the use of blue ink for all the matter on the front. There was no advertising to speak of and very little illustration except on the cover. It was published by the Family Herald Press in Crane Court off Fleet Street, and printed at Yorkshire Printing Works in York. It was a technological pioneer when it founded but had stuck to letterpress technology with its poor reproduction of images – and photograph-friendly gravure was in the ascendency at this stage. Family Herald would close in 1940 with the advent of paper rationing.

Red-faced at Time

March 6, 2013

The US magazine Time is celebrating 90 years since its founding, which the managing editor describes as ’90 years inside the red border’ on his Editor’s Desk page. But Time did not introduce its red border until 1927. So much for accuracy. Before that, the earliest issues had ruled boxes, reminiscent of the British magazine Pall Mall 20 years earlier.

Pall Mall magazine from 1905

Pall Mall magazine from 1905

The first Time cover from 1923

The first Time cover from 1923

In between, Time experimented with both a red and a green strip down the left side, the red being a ‘warm’ red as used by Pall Mall and the green similar to that used by Tit-Bits.

Green stripe Time magazine cover from 26 April 1926

Green stripe Time magazine cover from 26 April 1926

There’s a video showing the progress of Time’s covers.


Heroism behind romantic fiction

November 12, 2012

Romantic fiction in some people’s eyes (usually people who have never read one) is a lower form of literary life. But a 5-part series on BBC Radio 4 last week put the life of Mary Burchell, who worked as a writer from the 1930s into the 1980s in a new light.

Burchell was the pen-name of Ida Cook and in ‘The Righteous Sisters’, Jane Purcell told the story of how Ida and sister Louise not only campaigned for Jewish refugees but travelled around Europe as opera buffs to help smuggle money and goods and help people escape from the clutches of the Nazis in the years running up to World War II. The fees from Ida’s writing paid for their exploits.

In the 1950s, Mary Burchell’s stories appeared in Woman’s Illustrated and then Woman’s Day when the former closed. She wrote 125 novels for Mills & Boon into the 1980s. In an unusual move for the time, the magazine stories were illustrated by photographs, rather than illustration. It was always the same photographer – Follett. Anybody know who Follett was?

The Fantastic Fiction website lists her works and has a photograph. You can still hear the 5-part series on the BBC Radio 4 iPlayer.

Jeremy Leslie working on a book

November 11, 2012

It’s five years since Yolanda Zappaterra’s Editorial Design was published, and now I’ve just noted that Jeremy Leslie is working on one with the same topic, to be published next year. So, that’s why Magculture has been quiet recently. I know the feeling: mine on the history of magazine design for the V&A is now in production and will be ready next year too. In the meantime there’s a Magforum relaunch coming up at the end of the month – and hopefully a bit more blogging.

Baskerville gets a society

October 8, 2012

To many it’s a typeface, but Baskerville was the name of an 18th-century Birminngham printer, John Baskerville, and Wednesday, 7 November 2012 seeks the launch of a society devoted to him and his eepontmous face at the Arts Building, University of Birmingham.

The mark the event, the Baskerville Society will include talks by Caroline Archer of the Typographic Hub at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and Malcolm Dick at the Centre for West Midlands History at Birmingham University; and a performance of Hic Jacet or The Corpse in the Crescent, a play about the ‘thrice-buried printer’ which was written by Neville Brendon Watts and broadcast by the BBC in 1947.

Laid back and simple at the Economist

October 3, 2012

Came across this post from Neelay Patel about the Economist’s iPad strategy. It reminds me of the advice from typographers when DTP came in (John Miles made a similar plea at the time):

We also agonized over what not to include. We didn’t want any bells or whistles, or anything that would distract our readers from doing what they wanted, to finish reading their Economist each week.

With 600,000 unique devices accessing the apps each week and over 125,000 digital-only subscribers (and that was back in May), who could argue?

Digital magazine development



More on Man About Town

August 25, 2012
man about town 1959 spring cover

Man About Town 1959 spring cover, probably by Maurice Rickards

Five more covers from the 1950s incarnation of Man About Town have gone up at Magforum.  Look through them and you get the impression that there were opposing design forces at work.

Man About Town 1957 autumn

Man About Town 1957 autumn cover -  commissioned by Rickards, but more influenced by Taylor?

Most of them are traditional examples of illustration and then there is the Maurice Rickards design of Spring 1956. This clearly comes from a different root.  Rickards – regarded as the father of the idea of ephemera – worked as art editor on the magazine  for at least some of the time in this period.

Rickards did the Autumn 1958 cover design and, I assume, the next two abstract works. But the staff were not usually credited.

I can imagine John Taylor, the ex-RAF editor, liking the usual portrayals of the mustachioed man about town. And as one of the most influential men in world when it came to style for men – a fact agreed upon by the Daily Mail, the Guardian, Time and the New Yorker -  who could argue with him?

And who could argue with this tweet from Top Gear editor Conor McNicholas recommending Magforum – ‘Horribly designed but horribly well-informed’? The site was originally built by hand in HTML – that’s coded by hand – 12 years ago with the layout done as tables. There’s always a balance between design and content and the latter has always won out. It then moved on to the free page tool in Netscape, some time with Hot Dog, and then Dreamweaver. The code occasionally gets tweaked from an IPad. The thought of pulling it all part – about 160 pages – and putting it back together is horrendous and projects such as writing a book on magazine design have got in the way.

But the nettle is being grasped with the help of Max at the ever-so-cool Broken Culture, with a target relaunch date of October. Suggestions and comments welcomed.

Book review: Graphic design ideas

July 19, 2012
100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design has to be great book for starting arguments. Like all lists, it will divide, inspire, frustrate, inform and irritate its readers. Why’s that in? Why’s this out? You must be joking …

The authors propose 100 ideas, with a spread devoted to each: some technical (overprinting, Letraset, split fountain printing); others stylistic (expressions of speed, loud typography and white space); some objects (graphic design magazines, book jackets); and techniques (the grid, pixellation). And then set out why, arguably, the idea has been influential, with two or three examples as evidence.

So we have ‘body type’ – that’s type printed on flesh (what do you think of that one? Why isn’t it a tattoo?); self-promotional (vanity) publishing; manifestos along the lines of the Pre-Raphaelites’ Germ (though Marinetti’s 1909 article on Futurism is the first mentioned – and the blasting and blessing of the Vorticists’ Blast is far more fun, both to read and look at); and provocative gestures (what, no Churchill?).

Churchill's V-sign

Churchill’s V-sign

And no juxtapositions from Lilliput, an idea seen as much in the US and the UK? Or duotone, or printing poor pictures big, or CMYK, or integrated cover illustrations and text, or self-referential magazine covers, lenticular technology, or hand-drawn headlines?

Juxtapositions from Lilliput

Of course, there is also a danger here in repeating too many examples that have been wheeled out so many times before and on this point the book gets it about right.

The text belies the US-centric viewpoint of its authors, as in this commentary on a VW advert (1962): ‘The white page emphasized the undersized Beetle’. ‘Undersized’ – that could only have been written by a North American. These cultural differences are often overlooked by publishers and academics, yet they can make a big difference. For example, how many times has the New York Times printed the word ‘fuck’ in the past 30 years? Once. Even a comparatively reserved British paper such as the Financial Times has used it 430 times in the same period. (And what about censorship as an idea?) The editors could have been a bit more clever here.

The big issue is whether the book is true to itself. What is the underlying logic and narrative the authors set out? Here, it ultimately fails. Idea No 1 is ‘The Book’. Fine. But then it jumps several centuries to focus on the 20th. The Victorian is mainly treated as a form of nostalgia, rather than as the source of so many more of the ideas than the book gives credit for. The book itself gives no hint of selection, though the blurb in the press release does, talking about the ‘best examples’ from the past 100 years. So how does ‘The Book’ get in!

Yet, as long as you mentally insert the phrases ‘from a US perspective’ and ‘of the 20th century’ in the title, Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne provide plenty of irritation/inspiration value to inspire late night arguments among students and professionals alike.


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