My Alma Mater

America is pervasive: Every March, Twitter lights up with talk of March Madness, a huge college basketball knockout tournament, and I am gradually beginning to understand what’s fun about it. Even though I made a new hobby out of watching NBA basketball this winter (which is another story in itself), it’s not the March Madness games that caught my attention.

America is pervasive: It’s always puzzled me a little as to why American college-style clothing became such a thing in the UK, but it did, and it always made me a little happy that my American better-half has a genuine college hoodie from a real university that she, you know, actually graduated from.

As I don’t really have any skin in the game(s), I learned that the fun part of March Madness is to look at the bracket. Look at all those fancy schools, with their fancy logos that the world likes to emulate in fashion. It brings me a small amount of disappointment to think that Kentucky would be full of kids in ‘UK’ hoodies, and small amount of pleasure to think that there are probably thousands of students walking around in Houston wearing sweatshirts that say ‘UH’ in massive on them.

Because I’m neither American nor someone who even made it to a bachelors programme to drop out of, it all made me feel a little left-out. What I am, though, is a capable designer, so in the spirit of March Madness, I took it upon myself to create an alma mater of my own:

University of Great Hair

Here’s a little timelapse of the design process:

Now I don’t feel so left out. The finished result:

A small gift to a niche of the internet

I discovered a Great Thing a couple of years ago: The Casio VL-1. It was totally up my alley – a combination synthesizer/calculator invented 40 (!) years ago. It pushed two practically-unrelated functions together to make one charmingly terrible device (maybe it was more impressive in 1979?). I adore things that make me wonder how they came to be – how someone had the notion to make such a device, how a corporation approved the creation and sale of the machine, how people must’ve also thought it was a great enough idea to buy it (me?). Brilliant.

I couldn’t help but gravitate toward eBay almost as soon as I learned of the VL-1’s existence. The one I bought showed up wrapped in somebody’s local newspaper, but without a manual. No big deal, I thought – these things would be easily available on the internet. I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right either: The only copies I could find were available by jumping through some hoops on some questionable websites, and yielded pretty miserable, almost unreadable scans of the manual, which naturally upset the designer in me.

I can’t really explain what took over me, but I got an urge to recreate the entire manual. I matched the typography, redrew the illustrations by measuring my own VL-1, and put it all together as a nice and shiny PDF. I did a slight bit of re-flowing of the text to avoid splitting some of the paragraphs like Casio did with the original, but otherwise it’s a faithful recreation*.

This recreation has been sitting on my hard drive for two years, so I figured I would gift it to the VL-1 owners of the internet. Maybe I was the only one who wanted a more legible copy than the existing scans, but if you do too, here is a link to the manual in all its glory. Happy calculating, internet!

*I wish I was smart enough to have amended the instructions to make the synthesiser sound like a duck or something, but alas it’s beyond my skillset!

Bozos

This is a post about the Bose SoundLink Micro. It’s a thing in my house. It sounds fine – better than a phone – so it is good to take on holiday. It is also waterproof, so when not on holiday, it lives in the bathroom. Every time I look at it though, I wince a little at the design:

It looks like the speaker grille on the front was designed by filling a text area with full stops and setting the text alignment to justify. I find it awkward how it follows the curve of the body of the device, until it doesn’t, and just reverts to a jaggedy edge. It’d solve all its problems if the lines followed the shape of the device, rather than just going in unevenly spaced horizontal lines:

Sometimes I wish reality was this easy to photoshop!

The New Future of Pop Music

Like most dorks of the internet, I have a small habit of buying domains without projects to go along with them. A great example of this is TheLivingJacksons.com; a domain I have been sitting on for more years than I care to admit.

There is half a reason for keeping this domain – around the time I bought it, I had decided that if I had a band, I would call it The Living Jacksons. Never mind the fact that I have no known musical skills – I can still just about beat-match records on a pair of SL-1200s, and I can drop the Rhumba rhythm on my Casio VL-1 to great effect, but beyond that, I’ve never even tried to learn an instrument. I figured, though, that an absence of musical skill doesn’t necessarily exclude a career in pop music, and decided I would put a stake in the ground and claim The Living Jacksons as my own idea by buying the domain.

If this all sounds like an incomplete thought, that’s because it was: I knew I had no musical talent, but I didn’t even consider that I didn’t have something to put on the website. The domain sat doing less than nothing, absorbing renewal money for years, until the penny finally dropped on what the shape of my band was. Introducing The Living Jacksons:

N.b. I’m a lot more handy playing the washing machine than ironing boards, but the publicist and I both agreed that bending over to unload a washer wouldn’t have conveyed the message we are looking to convey with this band!

So finally – I created some press images of the band, and put a website together, with marginally more than nothing on it. Still no music though.

Headstand

Whiney's Waystone LP

Catching up a little on this one: Last autumn I had a fun extra-project for an album I worked on. Med School came to me with Whiney’s second album, and the title for it was ‘Waystone’. I really liked the title, and it made me think of the Giant’s Causeway, which was the main inspiration for the artwork. To make it a bit more interesting, I had an idea of using rotational symmetry to ‘break’ the faux-3D graphics, making it feel like it bent around the other way.

The idea was a sell, but as this is Drum and Bass, Whiney wanted my original version to be grimier. I obliged, and although it wouldn’t have been my choice, it ended up opening up an interesting opportunity further down the album’s development run. The label wanted some extra video content and asked me if there was some way I could do a live painting of the artwork – I thought a stencil would suit the more roughed-up design very well.

Conveniently, the label had recently moved into a new office featuring some dead space waiting to be converted into a new studio. The back wall of this space was offered to me to fill with spray fumes, and I was glad I brought a new respirator with me (Don’t spray-paint indoors without one, kids)! I spent a dark winter afternoon down south of the river laying down a bit of colour:

It made for a good backdrop for a live-streamed DJ set before it was entombed behind the new Hospital Records studio this winter. And it gave me a good excuse to do a bit of artwork on a different scale to what I usually do!

 
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