The Happy Film; graphic design on screen

Stefan Sagmeister in ‘The Happy Film’, seeking discomfort on the streets of New York. Photograph: Ben Wolf.

Stefan Sagmeister in ‘The Happy Film’, seeking discomfort on the streets of New York. Photograph: Ben Wolf.

The Happy Film
Duke of York’s Picturehouse
Preston Road, Brighton, East Sussex
14 June 2017 at 6pm

I’m not a fan of solo cinema visits but even with my partner-in-crime currently ‘away’, I had to see this just released, much discussed film at this special screening. Right on the money, the power-couple hosts of Glug Brighton, Carl Rush of creative agency Crush, and Helen, the renowned Illustration agent and founder of Agency Rush, invited graphic-design hero (and I don’t use the term lightly) Stefan Sagmeister to show his seven-years in the making documentary, The Happy Film. Despite the lure of a glorious summer evening, Brighton’s historic Duke of York’s cinema was packed with the city’s creative community including a good number of Graphic Design and Illustration students from University of Brighton, come to see the legend in action, for after a film of thrills and spills Sagmeister stepped up for the Q&A.
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Johnny Hardstaff imagines the future; interview

Michael Fassbender in David Promo, by Johnny Hardstaff (RSA Films)

Michael Fassbender in David Promo, by Johnny Hardstaff (RSA Films)

Johnny Hardstaff and Liz Farrelly
Interview, 13 December 2013

A shorter version of this article appears in étapes 218, translated into French; the issue is themed, Fiction and Anticipation, published March 2014.

A director and designer who includes the title “modern storyteller” in his biography, Johnny Hardstaff studied Graphic Design at St. Martins School of Art (now called Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design), graduating in the early 1990s and going on to teach design and illustration at Camberwell College of Arts (both are part of University of the Arts London). Hardstaff’s exploration of graphic imagery and use of drawing within his practice are prompted by a desire to build fantastical but believable on-screen worlds; two early short films, “History of Gaming” and “Future of Gaming” suggest that the concepts of utopia and dystopia are inextricably linked. Whether working with commercial clients (Sony, Smirnoff) the entertainment industry (often in collaboration with filmmaker, Ridley Scott) or cultural institutions (Tate, Victoria and Albert Museum), Hardstaff aims to imagine the future.

Liz Farrelly: How do you imagine the graphic language of the future? Do you see other designers trying this too?
Johnny Hardstaff: I used to think that I worked in a cultural vacuum and it was a positive thing. I was adhering to the principle that you don’t have heroes, don’t look at other designers’ work. Instead, you look at interesting triggers and stimuli that are erratic, and fuse them together in a postmodern way. When I try to help students to be original, I say, take two things that do not belong together and see what happens when they implode.
LF: Like the quote by the 19th-century poet, Lautréamont: “As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”.
JH: That’s absolutely the principle. I love thumbnails of things that you can’t quite see, images that are so broken you don’t know what they are, so you have to decide what they are.
LF: Like an inkblot test; by deciding what an image is, you are interpreting those half-formed marks, and that comes straight out of your head.
JH: And it’s a trigger. I like industrial languages and detailing on cars, things that already exist, but then you mess with them. They already have cultural resonance, but you remake it. It comes down to monsters; I like the idea of weird cultural monstrosities.
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Guest blogger; assessing Peter Saville, legend

Peter Saville Blueprint spread

Interview, 13 September 2013
Published, Blueprint, issue 331, 10 December 2013
Interview: graphic design legend Peter Saville talks to Liz Farrelly
Further contribution by Paul West, Form

For as long as this interview is available on the Design/Curial website, I’ll redirect you there; after that, I’ll repost it. It was a pleasure to be commissioned by Blueprint again after a few year’s hiatus. I worked in house from 1990 to 1994 beginning as Editorial Assistant, and writing from day one; I reached the heady heights of Deputy Editor, then freelanced under every editor until about 2006. Being asked to interview Peter Saville was the bonus; this is the third time I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a long interview with Peter, as well as having a few good chats along the way. He’s a great talker and it shows in the two and half hour transcript! Peter was to be honoured with the London Design Festival’s major award, which prompted the coverage. The award spiel mentions the winner’s contribution to design in London, and I realised that Peter’s amazing affect was as an inspirtion to and an incurbator of a considerable amount of graphic design talent that has gone on to make London the most important city in the world for graphic design. So, I asked around, and got a bunch of people to talk about their favourite work by Peter. Paul West had worked for Peter, and so I’m posting his contribution here as I couldn’t get it to the magazine by the deadline. Thank you Paul for adding such a great further contribution to the story.

Paul West: Where to start with Peter’s output. Who can’t love FAC1; the “Unknown Pleasures” pulsar; the “Closer” tomb, photographed by Bernard Pierre Wolff with the beautiful Lapidary typography; the “Blue Monday” floppy disc, his Section 25 work — the list is endless. To even go on more is redundant, so well catalogued is his work (alongside designers including Martyn Atkins, Brett Wickens, Richard Smith to name but three) that it’s entrenched in our popular counter-culture, in turn influencing culture.

True Faith

If I could name ONE piece of work I have loved above all other it is the fabulous “True Faith” 12″. This beautiful gold leaf suspended or floating on Yves Klein’s “International Klein Blue” backdrop, with the absolute minimum of information on the back cover (Name — Title / bside — Copyright — the all important Fac183 catalogue number — pre barcode!) and the way it fused art, hi-tech, independent couture, anti-couture; it feels as new now as it did then.

In 1987 I wrote my college thesis on Peter Saville Associates and Vaughan Oliver (V-23) and as a result I got through the doors and worked at PSA ’88 to ’89. I remember asking Peter about this cover and I him saying that the expanse of white on the back sleeve made the front sleeve look like an art piece, with the back cover serving as the catalogue descriptor. I loved that. It was so Warhol.

Of course so much of Peter’s great “visual” work is thanks to the genius of Trevor Key who had a studio space next door. I remember watching the exploratory work Peter and Trevor were doing for “Fine Time” and “Technique” and thinking how great it was, to be so progressive with such a spirit of discovery and invention, it was incredibly inspirational for a 20-something graduate. One day I was in Trevor’s studio talking to him about his work and looking through a massive pile of old test polaroids (including, X-Ray Spex “Germ Free Adolescents”) and I saw THE polaroid of “True Faith”. l had to ask. “Can I have it?”. “Piss off” came the reply. #legend.

From guest blogger, Paul West, Form


From the Archive; PostlerFerguson’s Paper Guns

As opposition forces take control of Kiev, and statues of Lenin fall all over Ukraine, the legacy of Soviet power recedes still further. The military achievements of the USSR and its allies were undoubtedly aided and abetted by Mikhail Kalashnikov’s most innovative design, the AK47. The Russian inventor and arms dealer produced the most popular gun ever, used by armies and rebels alike. Five years after my original post on Eye Blog, Kalashnikov died, on 23 December 2013, aged 94.

Eye Blog Paper Guns

Wednesday 1:38pm, 24 December 2008
“Careful with that AK47, Mikhail”
by Liz Farrelly
Originally posted on Eye Blog

Paper assault rifles and the well crafted design of fear

Looking for the ideal holiday-time craft project, something to keep your brain from seizing up during two weeks’ house arrest. Get your Exacto knife skills up to scratch with this self-assembly paper kit 1:1 scale model of the AK47 Assault rifle, the most iconic “Death Machine” ever dreamt up by an industrial designer, the “Avtomat Kalashnikov obraztsa 1947 goda” [Kalashnikov’s automatic rifle model of year 1947].
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From the Archive; DIY Design from 2010

I wrote this review when the DIY phenomena was still new to mainstream design; as St Bride Library is quiet for the summer I thought I’d re-post it. Perhaps DIY was perceived as a trend at the time; the conference broadened and deepened the definition by focusing on diverse projects with a claim to DIY credentials. Now such notions as self-instigated briefs, ad-hoc distribution and hand-making have evolved into a productive modus operandi for designers and creatives working across disciplines and often in collaboration.

St Bride Library Conference 2010 DIY Design
St Bride Library, London
Attended 27-28 May 2010

Tucked away in a narrow alley off Fleet Street (which was once the epicentre of the UK’s newspaper industry but has now been invaded by banks and trading floors), St Bride Library inhabits a labyrinthine Victorian building, alongside a theatre, classrooms and at one time a swimming pool, installed by the philanthropic founders for the improvement of the local workers. The newspaper presses have left the neighbourhood, but its long association with the art and industry of printing and typography remains, as the library boasts an extensive collection of books, manuscripts and archives relating to graphic design, publishing, calligraphy, illustration, and of course, type.
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From the Archive; Graphic Design: Now in Production

Occasionally I will dip into my archive of reviews, written for various publications and websites, and as I’m back in New York City, visiting design exhibitions, I thought I’d re-share this review of an exhibition event.

Graphic Design: Now in Production
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Governors Island, New York City
Visited 1 September 2012

Picture 26:9:12

4:38am, 26 September 2012
“Shake hands with the devil”
by Liz Farrelly
Originally posted on Eye Blog

The final hours of Graphic Design: Now in Production (the New York leg) provided a snapshot of contemporary practice, from the Stone Twins to Metahaven.

For the last Saturday of Cooper-Hewitt’s Graphic Design: Now in Production exhibition in New York, a student and professional crowd massed for ‘The Final Hours’. The temporary location (while the Carnegie Mansion is closed for renovation) was Governors Island, a breezy six-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan.

Co-curator Ellen Lupton observed that the audience was a mix of ‘die-hard graphic designers, who’ve come over repeatedly, and other visitors who’ve known nothing about design before their visit’. Walking around the show, the excitement was palpable. Enthusiastic children reported their finds to parents and cameras were clicking as visitors took photos of each other in front of favourite exhibits.
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