Grande Cappuccino in a Pantone 3425 cup please

I regularly stop by our local independent coffee shop to pick up a smooth morning caffeine hit and have a chat with the folks that own and run it. We have a shared love of many things; beautiful typography, classic cars, photography, food and not least, great coffee.

During one recent conversation, we got around to questioning what makes a coffee cup recognisable? What will make a work colleague know you’ve popped into Bean & Co for a sneaky double macchiato when they see a cup on your desk?

Besides the obvious giveaway, such as a logo or word mark, we settled on the use of colour and just how important it is for brands to own something distinctive. This can be one simple, definable colour, Harrods’ green for example, or it can be an entire kaleidoscope of colours, as long as they are used consistently and create a coherent, recognisable style. Think Paul Smith stripes or Burberry’s Haymarket check. These are globally recognisable symbols to anyone remotely fashion-oriented.

Our conversation never lasts for hours as he’s a busy Barista and I needed my Grande Cappuccino fix, but bringing things back to coffee, by consistently using a colour, it’s easier for others to identify where your caffeine loyalty lies. Add a touch of clever design and you’ll have a coffee cup your colleagues will lust after when they don’t have one.

Food (or shall we say coffee) for thought.

Detroit: Appetite for Reconstruction

Credit: KnitSpirit

Credit: KnitSpirit

The photographs depicting the incredible decline of Detroit are shocking but well documented. Images of abandoned hospitals, crumbling theatres, buildings engulfed by trees and slums have a tragic beauty to them. The Motor City’s glory days fell victim to increased globalised competition and a harsh recession, which forced residents to leave the city in their droves. It was the antithesis to the American Dream.

By 2014, the population had dropped to 689,000; two-fifths of the number who lived there in 1960, which explains the eerie, ‘ghost town’ feel of the photography, perhaps best captured by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Documenting Detroit’s decline and capturing the tragedy is perhaps the easy part. As the city climbs out of bankruptcy, its recovery is slowly taking shape  and Detroiters are building their own futures in an attempt to redefine their city.

The question of what to do with the abundance of decaying houses needs to be addressed  before the city can make a realistic, long-term recovery. A glance at reveals that the local government has knocked down over 10,000 vacant homes in a two and a half year period as part of the USA’s largest ‘blight removal’ programme. With the aim to demolish a further 40,000 over the next 8 years, it looks like a trend set to continue.

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Alongside this demolition programme, however, is the ‘Building Detroit’ initiative, where residents can buy properties at auction from as little as $1000. This makes space for some Detroiters to exercise creativity as cheap prices mean affordability for ambitious innovators with a vision. A combination of low-cost buildings, community spirit and creativity could prove to be the recipe  required to rebuild a unique identity for the city of Detroit.

Three projects that highlight the desire Detroiters have to rebuild their city are:

  1. The Brick + Beam Detroit project, which acknowledges the efforts of residents seeking to find solutions to ‘rehabbing’ existing building structures. Project funding for a supportive network to enable ‘rehabbers’ to work together and share expertise. An interactive map on The Brick + Beam website allows users to show their progress and share insight whilst the resources tab tackles issues such as hiring contractors, DIY surveying and repairs.
  2. Barbers and gardeners unite in a wonderfully creative partnership called ‘The Buzz Initiative’ where modern barber inspired mowing patterns are adapted for vacant lots. (Only in America, right?!) This unique solution to land management has seen different creative talents across the city unite with a shared goal and has been awarded $84,055 in funding.
  3. To some people, unwanted buildings are simply giant blank canvasses and those who paint them are celebrated at the annual ‘Murals in the Market Festival’, which sees 50 local and international artists paint their large scale murals across the Eastern Market District. For a dose of inspiration have a browse at the efforts from last year’s festival.

Impoverished areas sparking unique and exciting imaginative output is not new. Many places have created a specific urban identity, such as Tacheles in Berlin, the street art movement and parts of London or New York before their more recent gentrification. Hardship, natural disasters, loss, recession and other major challenges throughout history have led to creative and determined communities coming forth and reclaiming places across the globe. Instead of being known as the fallen motor city, Detroit could become known as the creative comeback kid.

In order to achieve this, local government agencies should choose to support the redevelopment of the city through the arts, seeing them as pivotal to the city’s future, understanding the value in them and, thereby, securing the sustainable regrowth of Detroit.

Dom’s day out with D&AD

When Dom’s not busy flexing his design muscles, he’s usually beating most of us at table football. Eager to add to his skills and compliment an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure font families, Dom attended D&AD’s ‘Writing for Advertising’ course with Will Awdry in London earlier this year.

‘Writing for Advertising’ covered ways to find and develop a ‘big idea’ through copy, creative writing from different angles, tips on connecting with an audience and how to inject emotion into copy.

Dom was impressed. He went as a self styled “font man” and returned full of praise for the art of copywriting. Here are a few of the things Dom told us stood out for him:

  1. How adding emotion or changing viewpoint can dramatically alter the impact of copy. The group worked through a range of practical techniques, including writing the same piece but in different styles ranging from ‘gossipy’ through to ‘functional’ and ‘demanding’.
  2. The craft of conveying a lot with a small number of words. One particular exercise involved everyone creating ‘six-word stories’ to see how persuasive they could be with only a few words – A challenge, but great for writing more effective headlines.
  3. As most of his fellow course chums were either journalists or copywriters, Dom was able to ask questions and pick up tips from the people around him.

Great copy is memorable, it sticks in your mind and has the ability to be called upon in unexpected ways, just like Dom’s snappy film summary. Employing all of the techniques he learned, it’s impactful, attention grabbing and perfectly captures the feel of the movie with its punchy delivery. Did you guess what it is yet? Point Break.

An Invader in Paris

Last year I finally fulfilled a desire to visit Paris, where I became fascinated with the amazing mosaics located throughout the city, by the Parisian street artist known only as Space Invader.

Apparently it all started in 1998 when Invader started installing mosaic pieces resembling pixelated characters from the arcade game Space Invaders, in both high-traffic locations and hidden street corners throughout Paris.

As his popularity grew, he began visiting other major cities throughout the world installing similar mosaics, including Berlin, Miami, Hong Kong and even here in the UK in London and Manchester.

Although Invader’s favourite subjects are video game characters, he varies his colours and designs, often allowing them to blend in with their surrounding environments. For example, a large simplified mosaic that resembles the Mona Lisa, was installed on Rue du Louvre.

Unlike other street artists, Invader shunned traditional spray paint cans in favour of tiles and grout, and in recent years his work has become so valuable that mosaics have been removed and sold for large sums. To combat the theft, Invader now installs the pieces in such a way that they will simply crumble if attempted to be removed from the walls. Some mosaics created have been aimed at the thieves reading ‘leave us alone’!

Like Banksy, Invader keeps his identity hidden for legal reasons, as his work is considered by many as a form of vandalism. For me, however, it’s art and I could not wait to own a piece of my own.

Street art now has such a sizeable following, that several forums have been created for art lovers to discuss, trade, sell and share their pieces. In 2014, whilst pursuing a somewhat addictive forum, I was extremely excited to hear about an upcoming Invader print release. This led to the purchase of a print in 3 colour ways, shortly followed by a ‘mosaic kit’ that was released in November.

Invader’s work sells out instantly due to the small edition sizes and the interest from around the globe, with the pieces now doubling and sometimes even tripling in value after their release. I, however, have absolutely no intention of selling any of the pieces proudly displayed on the walls in my home!

Out of time

Source: Lockheed Martin

Source: Lockheed Martin

The first thing you notice about the SR-71 is the blackness of it. And then its shape, like a rip on the sky, as if it’s pushing through from another world. It looks fearsome, but it’s really nothing more than a flying camera, albeit one that could photograph your license plate from the edge of space at 2,000 miles per hour. It has no offensive capability because it can outpace and out climb anything that would come after it. So it’s an impressive feat of engineering, and even more impressive that it comes from the late 1960s, this thing that looks like it’s touched down from an entirely different era.

The success of its design is rooted in the purpose for which it was devised (to be the fastest aircraft ever built) and the process by which it came into the world could best be described as obsessive and complicated. Being made almost entirely of titanium to withstand the extreme temperatures of Mach speed, it broke every item of machinery employed to build it, so every piece was made by hand. They had to invent new fuel and lubricants, and build a new runway, all in total secrecy. The pilots (who had to be a precise height and weight) needed to wear space suits. This single-minded pursuit of the design goal necessarily meant pushing the envelope every step of the way and overcoming obstacles that, in this day and age, would simply be project-managed out in the early stages. The result was something fabulous and awe inspiring – even by today’s standards.



In 1967, at about the same time the SR-71 was flying its first missions over North Vietnam, a typeface was released by Dutch designer Wim Crouwel called New Alphabet. Like the Blackbird, it looked like an artefact out of time, at odds with the style of its age. It was conceived as a personal experiment to explore the limitations of the newly-emerging screen technology of the time. Its strictly right-angled structure  (with just a pinch of stress in the corners) was, although industrial in appearance (bringing to mind girders bent into shape), designed to compensate for the lack of curvilinear detail afforded by early cathode ray tube monitors. Ironically, something so futuristic in appearance was designed with fairly primitive technology in mind. Today it wouldn’t look out of place in a type designer’s portfolio, and even when it was used on Joy Division’s Substance in 1988 it looked ahead of its time.

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

In the end though, both endeavours had their day. New Alphabet was never meant to be a commercial typeface (Wim himself described it as ‘unreadable’) and the SR-71 was finally retired in 1998. What they both proved is that by pushing the boundaries and looking beyond your immediate horizon, you can produce something truly progressive, exciting and enduring.