Unite or you will not know - Deadly Ponies

 

Liam and Katie discuss the arrival and departure point of Deadly Ponies

Liam Bowden: If Deadly Ponies were the arrival point, what would be the departure?

Katie Smith: If Deadly Ponies as an object were the departure point what would be the arrival?

Mmmm the arrival would be a Deadly Ponies tower with every floor offering something different shoes: jewels, couches and, of course, lots of food. What you think?.

Um that is definitely an interesting concept.
I don't think I have been to that particular tower. Or is your tower an analogy for something much greater that you have in mind for Deadly Ponies?

Yes, just taking on more and more challenges and who knows where it will end up?

There are so many paths that could be taken, so really just about trying to restrict myself from taking them all at once. Would you like to visit that tower though?

Sure. Let's say we were going to begin to design shoes. Where would we start? How would we decide what a shoe is to Deadly Ponies?

I mean there are so many shoes out there, both New Zealand brands and endless international brands. I would find it rather scary and hard: there just seems no market room and, of course, I would want them to be made in New Zealand, otherwise I don't really see the point. I mean we could just walk into any old factory in so many offshore producing places and pick from a shelf the mould and then the fabric and colours but, I don't know, there is no fun in that. I would rather use my own hands to make them, or at least contribute something or learn from a New Zealand craftsman. Don't get me started on overseas leather. Am I analysing something far too deeply when at the end of the day a shoe is a shoe, right?

Yes I think you are over-analysing it just a bit, although I would want it made in New Zealand as well. OK, maybe let's leave shoes then and go for dog leashes; think we could make a whole lot of stuff for Adara?

She would love it. But I guess the problem with keeping it all in New Zealand is that all the tradespeople are dying and no younger people are being trained up in leatherwork so it is, in a way, a dying industry.

Yes, but we are still learning and we have a lot more to learn. There is no right and wrong way to do things... We have had, on quite a few occasions, our 'older' counterparts comment "wow I would have never thought to do it that way". So I guess it is like what we always said - if we were using the same methods possibly we would be producing the same things as the 'older' guys still doing it. We have definitely been told multiple times our bags and jewellery are/is different. How many jewellers do you know who pick up less-fortunate casualties from mother earth and borrow some of their beautifully delicate bones for the beginning of a piece like a silver and bronze Pukeko pendant? You would be the only person I know. That quail is still in the freezer as well; what's happening with that?

Mmmm yeah I have been taking off the bits I need but I am still convinced that there could be something really cool we could do with the feathers. Maybe like a postcard which has a image made out of the quail feathers? There is just so many feathers and I feel bad just throwing the bird away. Or we could do something with them all over that wall by the fridge; we need to do something with that big white wall to make it way more interesting? Any ideas?

So the Deadly Ponies object would be an artwork on the wall consisting of quail feathers or a postcard and the arrival would assumably be the quail? Maybe that is a topic of conversation for another day? Shall we pick up back at the point of mid departure?

So an idea pops into our heads about a bag that is not huge but not at all small. We have a range based on ancient warrior tribes who use nature to make their dyes and fabric techniques. So that's step one. What's step two? People are buying carefully with this recession. How do we ensure they 'need' to buy this Deadly Ponies bag. What will step two do that sees it on its way. Maybe we could put feathers on it! Did warriors wear feathery bags? We need to depart and make it all the way with this range, not depart and then crash into a million pieces in the middle of the ocean.

One - I see what you did: you just don't want to do anything on that wall so you changed the topic. Two - You are confusing me with all this departure stuff and Three - No I don't think the warriors would have used feathery bags as it was not the trend. I don't know if you know this but back in Aztec times it was super cool to keep your tools tucked into your undies.

And if you really want to talk about arrivals, I want to arrive at DP Preciousand shamelessly plug our new fine jewellery line - Deadly Ponies Precious.Now what do you think of that?

Oh maybe I have seen that, seen a lot, so not much is surprising anymore - Liam. Secondly, no I don't want to put feathers up on the nice white wall, then it will be all feathery like a craft shop. Please can we leave it white, it balances out the scraps and mess on the floor. When I am stressed, I look aT the wall for solace. Third, finally we reach Deadly Ponies Precious.

Mm well you can only know what it is like to be a warrior, if you pretend to be one so when by myself I pretend, OK there it's out, OK no feathers. We can put up crystals and dream catchers instead then? And you were meant to do the talking about Deadly Ponies Precious.

Well Deadly Ponies Precious has been in the works for a while, and is a new line within Deadly Ponies of precious jewellery featuring solid 18ct gold, sterling silver

and other natural materials like bone, coral and onyx, opening up a whole different area of possibilities, which is pretty exciting don't you think?

Yeah it is definitely pretty exciting, very exciting, very scary. We are supposed to be graphic designers, now we have come full circle: we've done the bags, now we are doing the jewellery. You are more the jeweller than I am. I am still slightly confused with masters and moulds and silver and gold and polishing and sprues. I prefer to come up with the ideas with you and then see them when you have finished doing all the stuff you do to them, which by the way is still impressive even though I have seen you do it a few times now. It's amazing how you make a necklace that began life as a Pukeko foot: how you can keep every single piece of detail in the foot and then have it there in the silver or gold. I like it.

Well I like that you like it; yeah weird I kind of feel like a fish out of water now when it comes to graphic design . Not knowing what the latest font is any more or the latest graphic trend. Would still like to get back into it, design a book or a magazine but just need to find a few more minutes in the day to get those projects in.
It is exciting that Deadly Ponies Precious has gone into stores this year. It will be great to finally get customers' feedback.

Yes, it has been a long time coming, a lot of stress and a lot of money. To think we started this in the winter of 2007, we are now approaching winter 2009.

I feel like I have been designing jewellery boxes for a lifetime; we have finally got our three different styles with us in the workroom and we are so pleased with them. We went through so many variations, but in the end we stuck to what we wanted and ended up with a final design that we love, that we feel is the best fit possible for our jewellery. We have all the pieces finalised and have just received all the silver chains ready for their pendants.

This, for us, is one of many departure points for Deadly Ponies; at the same time it is the arrival point for Deadly Ponies Precious. To Liam and I the departure point is when we have finished stage one in a project like DP Precious, almost two years of very hard work, and we are now letting all our very personal handmade works of jewellery out into the world arena, for all to see, critique and hopefully love as much as we do.

Our personal point of departure becomes the public point of arrival; where the two mix is where a new point of arrival begins for Deadly Ponies - the release of Deadly Ponies Precious. If you are interested in the project that has taken up our lives for the last two years, please visit;
www.deadlyponiesprecious.com is available at selected boutiques throughout Japan, South Korea, Canada, USA, Australia & New Zealand.

 

L.A Convention - Field Landscape Architecture

Departure from landscape architectural convention . arrival of academic + practice as a model for landscape architecture

The field of landscape architecture in New Zealand is one that strives for the 'big jobs', one that is focused on the corporate world of business and money, and one that has little connection to the landscape architectural education providers. By definition, landscape architectural convention has or is becoming something that can be described as both conventional and generic.

In the USA, there has been a long tradition of practising landscape architects who preside over educational programmes. Not so in this country. Departure from (the representation of) conventional landscape architecture lies largely within educational practice, ie the agreement, acceptance or behaviour of landscape architectural practice. Adjusting socially agreed conventions and representations relies heavily upon the departure from landscape architectural convention.

It is our hope that field landscape architecture can depart from this convention and arrive at a place where students and lecturers can practise and feed back into the education of landscape architects in this country, laying bare its practise and publishing its methods, projects and philosophies: dialogue.

Environmental concerns with regard to plant selection are a given. Design is essentially collaboration between partners who alternate between mark-making and critique: between praise and interrogation. Play, excitement and curiosity are essential components in the day-to-day methodology of the design process.

Through being experimental and thinking in an abstract manner about a problem, the whole notion of design in combination with academic endeavour is being engaged, and put to use. Aspiration for places and plants that inspire, excite, resolve, reconcile, reveal, persist and work.

For practising landscape architects, the educational process begins with our ability to comprehend the medium with which we work: landscape. Landscapes are controlled neither by the generically aesthetic nor by convention or money. Landscapes are ephemeral, transitional and temporal, a series of independent yet enigmatically connected forces, fluctuations and conditions. In this sense, landscape architecture can be sensitive, passionate and profoundly accurate with regard to the site, and the rich and complex systems that course through it. Landscape architecture cannot be bound by anything other than landscape conditions.

field is currently interested in abstraction as a tool to achieve these aims: abstraction (of site information) is an important part of learning, testing, and finding things out. In the discipline of landscape architecture abstraction is a process of emphasis, a selection of things that are chosen to be dealt with. This emphasis can be described as a mechanism. is interested in a departure from brief-driven methodology, instead using an approach that allows the landscape to provide the programme for projects that emerge through an engagement with enquiry by design... a focus on an integration with/and response to, the relevant circumstances: context. design process is dominated by drawing and is essentially a conversation, a dialogue where propositions are tested and critiqued. A studio approach persists where peer review and discussion perform a vital generative and evolutionary function.

Through the process of abstraction, a mechanism such as wind-blown seed, or a particular type of space, which allows for 'gathering', can be explored in terms of its mechanical, or 'how does it work' capabilities.

This understanding opens up opportunities to work creatively with the soft, organic elements of landscape architecture: to exploit a rich variety of species and of course on occasion respond either dynamically or more subtlety to the pot-pourri of New Zealand architectural idioms.

The predominant themes that permeate my Fine Art practice and manifest in the landscape architecture of field are to do with the biota of this place, the culture and history of our land. These Threads are woven together by an aesthetic sensibility heavily influenced by Renaissance and Classical notions of composition. Plant selection is therefore heavily influenced by characteristics such as texture, chromatic qualities, formal aspects and their affect as a result of context in-situ.

This comprehension, ability, education and application of landscape architecture becomes the arrival of academic plus practice as a model for landscape architecture. not to mention lots of other mother-fucking flaky malarky.

 

Work - Shine

We are Shine. Our work to date has spanned a range of disciplines, categories and geographies and has included everything from conventional ad campaigns for existing local brands to the creation of totally new brands and concepts.

The following pages showcase some of our work: how it first arrived to us, and its ultimate departure once it had received our treatment.

Emile Holmewood talked to Shine co-founder, Simon Curran, about the recent text-driven campaign they launched for Beck's beer in Auckland.

Emile Holmewood: The Beck's campaign '30 Nights' is a unique idea. Had anything like this been done before which inspired this approach?

SIMON CURRAN: While the idea of a concentrated period of activity in specific areas is not new, the 30 Nights campaign we created is unlike anything we have seen elsewhere. It's the blend of Facebook, iPhone, PocketVouchers and traditional media that we think makes the
idea fresh and distinctive for Beck's.

EH: What process did the campaign follow from conception of an idea through to implementation?

SC: We were fortunate that we have in
Lion Nathan a client who is exceptionally receptive to the suggestion of fresh and different ideas, so that was basically the brief we received. We showed them a variety of conventional approaches, but suggested that it wouldn't be anywhere near as impactful as something that is technology based - one
that engages and encourages participation
with the target market.

EH: What was the main motivation for using cellphones? Did you find texting had an advantage over other forms of media you have worked with?

SC: Our view is brands should be joining the conversation with their users rather than interrupting it as traditional advertising sets out to do. So media like mobiles, Facebook and Twitter provide brands the opportunity to now join the conversation in ways that we were not able to do previously.

EH: As the campaign progressed, did you see a steady rise in its popularity, or was this more sudden - as people discussed it?

SC: The awareness of this campaign was swift and from day one. We immediately had demand exceeding supply, which grew day by day.

When Mac's arrived, it had a very corporate aesthetic, lacking the quirkiness which is so apparent in its history. Emile talked with Len Cheeseman, and Stephen Cicala about the project.

Emile Holmewood: What is the overall concept behind the look?

Stephen Cicala: Mac's was an existing brand, having been around since 1981. We started in late 2005-early 2006 on it, so there was a bit of history already in the brand. That was the starting point. I guess probably one of the first influences that we came up with was New Zealand art, and especially New Zealand art in the early '80s when the brewery was founded.

EH: What was the inspiration behind coupling New Zealand art with beer?

SC: We felt that a craft beer should have a non-commercial look about it. It should look handmade. A lot of New Zealand art has this quality of being intimate and very much created by hand and that is something that we equated to craft brewing with Mac's.

EH: What came first, the tone of voice or the aesthetic?

SC: They kind of happened at the same time, because we all worked together in reasonably cramped quarters. Certainly Ken Double, who really developed the tone of voice more than anyone else, had something to say about how it looked. And by the same token Shine and all the other people that worked on it, had stuff to say on the tone of voice as well. It was a true collaborative effort.

EH: What was your process when determining each beer's individual look?

Len Cheeseman: Coming up with names for the beers, which was fun for the group involved, informed how they should look.

EH: Why did you use the typeface Pintor?

LC: It's based on an old hand-drawn sign, which evokes the rural typographic vernacular of many places; in turn it's been developed again by David Buck as something more expansive than the original.

EH: How does the look communicate the benefit of the product?

LC: It separates the brand as a craft beer experience; you get a sense of its heritage from within rural New Zealand.

EH: Were there any commercial constraints limiting your creativity?

SC: We couldn't change anything about the physical packaging: six, twelve and fifteen packs, the bottle label or the shape of the bottle itself. So a lot of those production constraints were inherited and we had to try and do something different within the spaces that had already been defined.

EH: What was your angle when taking the Mac's look from packaging, and expanding it across different media?

LC: Don't waste a good look; just keep developing it through different media. Lucien at Shine has done a great job on the bars for example. It's the modern way to use a creative resource who can work across platforms, it maximises a budget much better.

Len Cheeseman talks to Emile about his approach to directing the redesign of Healtheries Tea.

Emile Holmewood: What was your philosophy behind the tea packaging's overall look?

Len Cheeseman: I don't do philosophy.

EH: What is the inspiration behind the minimalist approach?

LC: It's not minimalist, just restrained and exuding quality.

EH: What was your reasoning for using the typeface 'Fedra'?

LC: Its elegance, and it is the right typeface at the right moment. 

EH: What was your angle in deciding the coloured background?

LC: Its intention is to create an ambience around flavour.

EH: What were your attitudes towards photography? Were you trying to promote an 'organic' approach?

LC: We just wanted to make the ingredients look beautiful and mouth-watering.

EH: What emotive tones were you trying to draw out of the consumer?

LC: A subtle stimulation of their senses that would draw them to the product.

EH: What was your angle when expanding the look across different media? (Press and TV)

LC: If you start at first base with a brand, it's easy to see the possibilities of where it might develop. Having control of the aesthetics is paramount and makes the brand go further for a client - so staying within the aesthetic instead of throwing ad ideas at it, on top of everything else, isn't always the answer.

EH: When bringing the aesthetic to TV, what challenges did you face converting the static imagery of packaging into an animation?

LC: None, just get the right animator. In this instance Jonny Kofoed, as he is on the same planet as me.

 

The Chosen Path - Oktobor

The gospel according to Oktobor.

GOOD COP (ARTIST): The person (Oktobor Artist) who makes stuff look good, including the ad, the ad people, their clients. This person needs to worry about nothing but making stuff look good.

BAD COP (VFX PRODUCER): The person who assists the Good Cop in every way possible behind the scenes to realise their vision, while wrangling expectation, money, assets, deliveries, approvals and timings, dispatch, ID boards, audio laybacks, They make the calls that creatives consider Bad, such as "you have no more time", "you have used all your money".

TRANSLATOR: My job is to take words and turn them into pretty shapes and colours. Sounds simple enough.

ETIQUETTE: In summary, people usually prefer Good cop, hence the use of the words 'Good' and 'Bad' in front of the word 'Cop'.

BEER ADS: First rule of advertising is you need to understand what you are selling - you need to touch it and taste it - really experience it as a consumer...

QUOTE: "The constant companion of creativity is self-doubt."

TIME & CULTURE: Time is a commodity these days, so very good design, well-executed creation and strong delivery underpins quality entertainment - and that captures eyeballs. That's what we put at the very forefront of the biggest challenge that brands have. We execute that and we don't change 9.99 to 9.95. People who hold key design positions at a creative level come from an 'art' background. That's the culture we need to foster.

MISTAKES: All mistakes have symptoms and you can start to build a mental picture of why certain things don't work. For every great visual moment, there are 20 bad ones that no one sees... I've become less precious over the years and take to my bad ideas with a big knife.

PERSONALITY: I think this industry suits strong sprinters.

DESIGN FOR DESIGNERS: Gets squinty eyes in this biz

PANEL BEATING: I feel grateful to work in an industry where I can be professionally/psychologically /egotistically encouraged by good work. It feels somewhat more tangible than other industries. If you work in a parallel industry for a while, you really start to feel like you're missing out on that party all the cool kids are going to. Except for full-time explosive demolition work. That would kick ass.

OSMOSIS: Letting the people around you influence your work is what makes it unique, effective and, most importantly, good to other people.

ALIGNING: At first it's difficult to understand the collaborative process and let go but, after a while, you really start to embrace how dynamic and relative the design process is.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO OKTOBOR

The Seawall and Bad Cop
Good Cop (Okt artist) versus Bad Cop (Okt VFX Producer) - and other people involved.

The other playas:

1 - Creative folk from the Agency and/or Directors- They love cool stuff, and shouldn't/don't want to worry about how long it takes and how much it costs

2 - Prod Co and Agency Producers - Like cool stuff if their creatives/directors like it, and it's done within time and budget they have allowed

3 - Account Service - Will like cool stuff only if the client likes it, and worry about nothing but how long it takes and how much it costs

4 - Clients - (generally) like cool stuff if the creatives tell them it's cool stuff

5 - Group Accountants - Don't care about cool stuff

6 - General Mangers - like cool stuff and timeline /budgets met

7 - Executive Producers - like cool stuff, and want timeline/budgets met every time

Enter this VFX Producer, who wants all the above to be true, but whose M.O. is fantastically balanced between cool sh*t, (cool sh*t = more business and happy artists, more business means mo' money, happy artists = artists who stay to help take/make mo' money) and the age old equation of time versus money.

Discreetly in cahoots with Bad Cop, Good Cop works closely to optimise the given time and resources, while GC outwardly appears to have sided with creatives/director, to poo poo BC. BC is aware of this, so doesn't take it personally (most of the time). Based on the above rationale, the 'power' is given to the artist, while the internal 'deal' is you have free rein within this finite period.

Important/relevant/spontaneous questions in search of knowledge and/or enlightenment

Should I move to Auckland? Should I harass/contact the head of motion @Oktobor? Maybe he'll give me a job. Am I even good enough yet? Will I get passed on to his secretary? It's probably worth a shot, yeah? How do I describe what I am? A graphic designer? A faux interactive designer? Multimedia designer?
A motion designer? Oh, so I'm a motion and design artist? I'll take that. How did they find
out I stepped into someone else's 'game' and
was threatened with a 'shiv'? I'm one of the youngest artists here? So I'm gen-y? Do I resent that? Maybe I'm borderline gen-y? I have a fresh perspective?
So we're not making art, we're making money; "Am I concerned at all with the responsibilities inherent with being a translator?" I need to answer yes to that don't I? How do I translate this abstract concept? Is my translation relevant? How do I communicate that? How do I reach the 'next level'? Perhaps we could move the desk here instead? My job is to take words and turn them into pretty shapes and colours. Sounds simple enough.

"Oktobor gives a shit"....What were you hoping to achieve by giving key clients a 5kg gold-plated turd and embroidered polishing
cloth for Xmas?

Did it work as a concept of an idea? Yes. We knew that it was a risk but yeah it worked and this says a lot about our culture, our brand and the current state of the economy.

It's a dangerous line but obviously almost anyculture receiving faeces will find it offensive. Faeces is offensive full stop but the issue was that it was always going to a creative audience not a corporate one, hence I expected a fair amount of interpretation on what the meaning was.

... and on being the 'lion'... and we the 'cubs'?
I don't see my role as finding the jobs and I see motivation as the key in our culture at Oktobor. I have quotes that I stand behind. One example is "the constant companion of creativity is self-doubt" and in our business there is a lot of self doubt because it's a high-end creative business and I sense the doubt all the time: "Is it a good idea?", "Have I approached this in the right way", etc.

And computers?... I also think we haven't been bent out of shape about technology from a culture perspective. To summarise we need to stay one step in front of our client. I think that talk about technology and discussing the subject too much puts you two steps in front then you're disconnected.

"The planets have to align" - good work is just 1/6th of what it takes to do good work.

Making good work is hard and most of the time it's out of your control. As much as you are behind the wheel when you create something for someone else, there is always a handful of different people with different ideas of good in the back seat telling you where to go. With most projects there is an inevitable point when I have no idea where we will end up. This is when the planets align either in your favour or not. At first it's difficult to understand that and let go, but after a while you really start to embrace how dynamic and relative the design process is. Letting the people around you influence your work is what makes it unique, effective and, most importantly, good to other people.

The Fulcrum

There's a point in my creative process where things could go either way. It's usually about a third of the way into a project when a tangible 'product' is produced which everyone can discuss. For every great visual moment there is 20 near misses that no one will see. I've become less precious over the years and take to my bad ideas with a big knife.
The great thing about advertising is how measurable it is. There's a goal or single-minded proposition which is usually well defined. Visually, some things work and other things don't. There's always someone close by to tell you why - the client, agency or random colleague with a drive-by opinion. The tipping point often focuses on a single gathering. Usually an image that will drive the success of that meeting. This is the Fulcrum, which is the most stressful and anticipated moment in just about any project for me. Everyone wants to see 'it'. What is my commercial going to look like? What are your intentions with my brand? Even though we've only just started. When a Creative Director, Account Manager and Producer all see a single image and chorus "that's it!", it's a very reassuring moment. The image shouldn't need a verbal description. The visual communication needs to work beyond other clever creatives and designers.

Customised Visual Engineering and Construction Work

One of the most enjoyable things about making TV commercials is that we are providing customised visual solutions to every client. At the low/fast/cheap end, there is always some recycling, but for higher-end commercials we really get to sink our teeth into a brand-new challenge every couple of weeks. It's different to long-form TV or film work where the really long hours on the same job can continue for months on end. So it comes down to the style of working you prefer. I think this industry suits strong sprinters. The ups and downs, adrenaline and excitement of fresh challenges that advertising requires is both alluring and addictive. The thrill, relief and satisfaction of successfully delivering a great TVC is probably the best part.

"Ask for 'product' and you seem less desperate".

How do you visually translate a product on screen if you don't appreciate all its subtle nuances? Let's be clear - receiving 'product' is not a perk - it is the beginning of the intensive research phase. Unfourtunately my wife saw it a little differently when a large quantity of alcohol 'product' turned up on our doorstep one Friday afternoon. Once the unexpected 'product' drop had been explained - the research began and much was learnt by all.

 

Common Places - The National Grid

 

The National Grid – edited, designed and published by Luke Wood and Jonty Valentine – first appeared in March 2006. Fundamentally a publication for and about graphic design, The National Grid has attempted to chart a path through the murky territory between professional practice and academia, and between art and design. It is published roughly twice a year, is produced independently in New Zealand, and is distributed internationally. While never specifically thematic, the publication has been quietly subtitled issue by issue – in small print, on the spine only. In the following text, Luke and Jonty pass around and consider aspects of the publication’s content so far, extra-curricula activities, winners, losers and supernatural occurrences.

THE NATIONAL GRID: The back cover of our last issue. This seems to be a good place to start to begin to try and articulate something in hindsight. We asked Dylan from Stink Magnetic if he'd do an ad for our back cover. Except it's not really an ad as such. We don't carry ads, and he didn't pay us anything. I also doubt he'll get anyone who saw it there taking him up on his $40 song offer. So really we saw this as Dylan producing a piece of work for us, in much the same way as an artist might be asked to produce a 'page work' as they call it.

* * *

In the middle of the first issue, in lieu of an editorial, we did begin to 'Index' and map the field we were interested in then. We called it "More [a] paranoid-critical map than an editorial".  This was a reference to Salvador Dali's Paranoid-Critical method for seeing links between things that are not obviously connected... I guess it is interesting to see how many of the indexed terms keep coming up three years later. Also I like how a lot of the issue seemed to be about starting to stake a claim for various fields - laying out the case, weighing founding documents, monstrous manifestos and personal process maps.

* * *

That initial speculative mapping and indexing of territory is funny to look back on now. In Issue #2, Pauline Ng mapped the 'Internal and External relationships' between participants in a design project. This impulse to map out or chart relationships also reminds me of the reference to the movie Kitchen Stories that we made in Issue #1. Something about our mapping of the territory is like Folke's mapping of Isak's movements around his kitchen. The premise of the movie is that: "under no circumstances can the observer interact with the subject of their observation." A lot of our content may have come from a spirit of 'neutral observation' of the industry at first - maybe more from a desire to depart from, or be on the periphery of, the 'established' design community here. But actually most of our content has come from and become about the opposite - ie, it is all about personal interaction. We were originally interested in referencing Kitchen Stories because it made fun of the Scandinavian positivist scientific method that the Design Taskforce's Better By Design prospectus glorified.

* * *

This 'Three Ring Circus' venn diagram made for the website fits in here too. Maybe the point to make really clear here is that we weren't very happy with how graphic design was being articulated and referenced in that whole Better By Design thing. It felt like losing a fight that you never got the invitation to or something. Reading through their document, a manifesto of sorts, we were amused by their use of pseudo-scientific diagrams and formulae. The overall effect was of some sort of business self-help book put together by the likes of Patrick Swayze's character in Donnie Darko.

While referring to these things as 'spooky' and 'magical' in a condescending way at first, we began to realise that as this document was aimed at clarifying design as a process for the business world to see, we wanted to push off in the opposite direction. We began to think people needed more magic in their lives, we certainly did, and so these sorts of things - obfuscation and voodoo - work towards pointing at what we don't understand: trying to locate the complex parts of what really, on the surface, is a pretty simple thing to do. 

* * *

It was Bruce Russell who pointed out, in Issue #2, that "for a very long time there was no difference between science and the occult." This CD cover, designed by Bruce, employs a visual mnemonic by Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).

Reproducing two more of Bruno's "cosmological, physical, and mental maps of obscure significance" in Issue #3, Bruce mentions that "Bruno's quest to introduce the worship of ancient Egyptian deities to Renaissance Europe ended predictably at the stake."

* * *

This spread is from the end of the image section and the start of the text section of Issue #3. On the verso page is an image of a sandwich board sign on the pavement in central New Plymouth. The sign is from a series of 'City Tours' that Kaleb Bennett organised in various towns around New Zealand. The theme of the New Plymouth Tour was 'Isolation and Escape'. The black van is Kaleb's tour bus. The abstract of terms for the tour that day are:

Desperation
Temporary Insanity
Paranoia
Misanthropy
Rancour
Emptiness
Escape

On the recto is the title page for the text section of the issue and, under the main heading, is a list of words that are meant to be read in juxtaposition to Kaleb's, but also to suggest a summary of the upcoming content. The list on the right is actually abstracted from John Berger's Ways of Seeing. The whole paragraph reads: "Yet when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art. Assumptions like: Beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, form, status and taste, etc."

* * *

These are steel panels from the old scoreboard at Carlaw Park. We've reproduced them twice, in Issues #1 and #2, and they are now hanging on our studio wall. There's something about the spirit of these signs that seems to follow on from, or sit in behind, Kaleb Bennett's and John Berger's lists above. One being fundamentally cynical and dark, the other optimistic and attempting some sort of illumination.

These signs together like this also work like a venn diagram. There is obviously some overlap - some POSSIBLES will make it, you presume, and some PROBABLES probably won't. Like sporting tarot cards these signs speculate about the future. However, both are euphemistic, pre-loaded with a sense of optimism. Why couldn't it be PROBABLES vs PROBABLY-NOTS?

I think it was Robin Kinross who complained about the "relentlessly rosy picture" often painted by writing about graphic design. And perhaps design is like sports - losing/failing is of little use, or interest? But, in some ways, The National Grid could be seen as a catalogue of losers - of projects that didn't quite 'pay off'. The sorts of things we like, looking back, are often produced independently, make no money, and survive off grants, subsidies or goodwill. For reasons that seem obvious enough, these sorts of projects are infinitely more interesting than what we see from the 'winners' represented elsewhere.

Something like this came up in the editorial to our first issue. We mentioned that we thought all our best students were probably unemployable. We were half joking, but it was funny because it's half true. It is clear then that our 'best students' would be POSSIBLES rather than PROBABLES. But, being optimistic, that sounds about right. I think we can agree that we're more interested in possibility than probability.

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Possibility is something Lisa Grocott talked about a lot. She was always quoting Clive Dilnot who talks about design being in the production of possibilities, asking 'what if?', as opposed to science which, describing the world, asks 'what is?'

This is one of three diagrams she did for Issue #1. She supplied some 'notes' to go with these under the heading 'Negotiating Lights On/Lights Off'.
In the notes she describes that, for her, the agency of design rests in negotiation, 'the push and pull 'between opposing events, situations or ideas - concrete/abstract, talking/listening, science/design, sex/PhD, light/dark...

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In a panel discussion at the Typeshed11 conference in Wellington recently, Paul Elliman said that "graphic design does not solve the darkness". We used this quote on one of the posters we made as part of our contribution to the event. That statement may seem curious here, out of context like this, but he said it, I think, to derail one of those typical save-the-world conversations designers are always getting carried away in.

It was good to hear someone like Paul say this, because sometimes you start to feel like you're sitting in this church but you're not a BELIEVER, and you get nervous you're the only one, and perhaps everyone else, sensing your discomfort, can tell...

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The series of posters we pasted up around Wellington for each day of the Typeshed11 conference were inspired by the mock-newspaper The Double Standard.

In Wellington in the late '70s, during Rob Muldoon's term as Prime Minister, A1-sized screen-printed newspaper 'scare sheets' mysteriously began appearing on the streets. The newspaper, with the masthead 'The Double Standard', was the work of a clandestine group of Wellington women (who remain anonymous today). The headlines of the scare sheets were a cryptic commentary on the sexual hypocrisy of Muldoon and other members of his National Party government: for example, the cleverly kerned: "P.M.'S PEN IS BUSIER THAN BASIL'S".

While New Zealand's mainstream media organisations avoided all mention of alleged scandalous behaviour by Ministers of the Crown, it was considered common knowledge amongst well-connected Wellingtonians in the inner-city suburbs.

The title of The Double Standard was also a nod to The Standard which was the name of the New Zealand Labour Party's newspaper, established by the New Zealand Labour movement activists in the 1930s. The Standard was started as a vehicle to promote the perspective of an audience that they felt the mainstream media was representing poorly.

In Issue #3 of The National Grid, for her article on Springbok Tour protest signage, Elaina Hamilton also quoted from The Double Standard: "P.M. BRAGS: I STUFFED GLEN EAGLES I'LL DO LAURA NORDA NEXT!"

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This was the first poster we produced as The National Grid. It was for the launch of Issue #3 at Artspace in Auckland. It was a good night. We sold a few copies including some back issues, Bruce Russell came up and played, and there was a lot of sponsored alcohol, thanks mostly to Anna Dean.

This was the beginning, I think, of our starting to think about doing other sorts of things, under the aegis of The National Grid, outside the immediate parameters of the actual publication itself. There was something really enjoyable about the social aspect of this sort of thing, because, up until this launch party, we'd kept a very low profile. Making the publication in our free time (at night mostly - while maintaining full-time jobs elsewhere) means we are often hidden away at home working like hermits.

In comparison, these other sorts of projects and events are so much more immediate. They've also been a good way to get to meet and talk to people - something we tried to capitalise on at the Typeshed11 conference in February by setting up a sort of office/meeting space... and having beers available after 5pm.

We've talked before about using the publication as a vehicle through which we are able to try to connect up a previously disparate community of like-minded people. Which it sort of does. Whatever, it's increasingly apparent that the publication provides us with a good excuse to organise events and throw parties. Some have been more successful than others. It'll be hard to beat that night at Artspace.

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Also, luckily we've been invited to other people's parties too. In 2007, we curated a collection of publications, as a kind of southern hemisphere contribution to the Reading Room component of Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design. This exhibition was organised at London's Architecture Association School of Architecture by Zak Kyes and Mark Owens: "Forms of Inquiry presents a group of contemporary, international graphic designers who base their work in critical investigation." We were asked to write about and send some examples of publications from New Zealand that have influenced The National Grid.

The writing we did was a bit like what we are doing now; we used it then as a chance to have a dialectic about what we were doing with The Grid. A lot of good things came out of being involved in this exhibition. One was simply that the thesis of the exhibition was really great. It did begin to crystallise ideas for us about the kind of graphic design projects that we were really interested in. The exhibition and writing was all about 'self-propelled' projects that are devised as an 'inquiry' - or part of an extended body of work by designers that are essentially vehicles for openly exploring an area of interest... This is sort of the antithesis of seeing graphic design projects as problem solving (from science), or being about clear communication to a narrowly defined, but paradoxically ubiquitous, invisible audience (from marketing).

The forms of inquiry we are interested in are ongoing, often don't have a firm solution and are often personally motivated and mostly only locally relevant. Daniel van der Velden wrote about this in his article 'Research and Destroy: Graphic Design as Investigation' in Metropolis M (2006, No.2): "It is not strange that a branch of graphic design has evolved that no longer hangs around waiting for an assignment, but instead takes action on its own accord. It [graphic design] has polarised into the 'willing to work', who often have little or no control over their own positions, and the 'out of work', who, with little economic support beyond re-channelled subsidies or grants, work on innovation for the sake of innovation." I cringe a bit at the word innovation because it reminds me of Better By Design rhetoric, but that does sound like how The National Grid is produced. Van der Velden warns about the threat to, or even death of, design because it is being taken over by 'communications managers and marketing experts' engaged on behalf of clients to direct the design process, marginalising graphic designers to becoming the "proletariat of the creative industry, silently carrying out whatever the client dictates". Yep.

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The people at the AA School of Architecture knew about The National Gridbecause Wayne Daly, who works there, discovered us after Issue #1 appeared on the Dexter Sinister website. Wayne emailed us, sent us a cheque, and was our first 'mail order' customer. We'd already started sellingThe National Grid in a couple of bookstores overseas, and we quickly realised there was more interest 'over there' than there was here at home in New Zealand.

In an interview with Bruce Russell in our second issue, the picture of his various record or CD releases as a sort of 'message in a bottle' became quite clear. This occurred at about the same time as we were starting to get more and more feedback internationally. It had never really been our intention to operate in this way, but increasingly one of the biggest benefits of doing this publication has been that we are able to tap into, and engage with, a much wider community internationally.

The image here (previous page) is of one of Bruce Russell's Corpus Hermeticum releases of a CD by Thurston Moore. This fits in here because, like Bruce, we've opened up The National Grid to international contributions. We've received some criticism for this, some sort of anxiety about it not being a 'New Zealand' publication anymore.
I know Bruce couldn't care less about being a New Zealand label. For him these things are a lifeline, a sort of noisy umbilical cord extended out over the Pacific and around the world.

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Brian Butler, during his tenure at Artspace, placed a lot of emphasis on publishing and distribution. Interviewed for The National Grid #5, he talked about this and why the periphery is the most interesting place to be. The iceberg off the coast of Dunedin adorning the cover of Speculation, edited by Brian, seems to be a fairly direct reference to this train of thought, along with his conversations about "the seamless push and pull between the local and the international." It seems a forlorn gesture though? The iceberg was lucky to make it this far north, let alone further into the Pacific.

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This "seamless push and pull" Brian talks about in #5 is apparent here, in the same issue. Following our participation in Forms of Inquiry, I went to visit Wayne and Zak at the AA School in London. While I was there, they showed me the Risograph printer they'd recently bought. We talked about them doing some sort of contribution for us in return, and this is the result. This is a spread from the 16-page section they edited, designed and printed for us.

We nicknamed Issue #5 'A Colonial Outpost for Graphic Design' because, more than any other issue we've done so far, it seems to address the issues of distance, travel and time.

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Each issue has had a different subtitle on the spine. Issue #1 was 'A peripheral publication for graphic design'. All of these spine titles are about being on the periphery, the outside, at the edge of 'the rest'. It is definitely a defining motif for us: partly because of our trying to write about marginalised practices or ideas in graphic design, but also maybe from our trying to write about what we don't really know about, but want to find out about. Maybe it's also something about being more interested in quiet-local or even exclusive-private stories than in grand narratives. Or maybe it's simply us trying to graft local stories onto larger cultural ideas because they are what we really know more about. In Issue #1, I briefly wrote about Max Hailstone's Treaty of Waitangi project, in an article about founding documents. It's impossible for that not to be part of a/the grand narrative in New Zealand.
I guess Max knew that when he started his project in 1990. But he was a relatively recent English émigré to New Zealand and perhaps didn't really understand our colonial history (although arguably not many New Zealanders of his generation understood any better). But I think he was sincerely searching for a way of elevating the role of graphic design in New Zealand by taking on 'important' cultural projects like this. But Max's point of view on this project, and mostly in his lack of consultation on how to go about it, was really (perhaps unknowingly) anachronistically late-colonial at a time when he couldn't get away with it.

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It makes sense then, seeing as we began with the back cover of our latest issue, that we finish here with the front cover of the first issue (right). This cover featured a close up, cropped reproduction of an old (c.1970s) postcard showing a young woman looking out over the Karapiro Power Station. The cover of #1 was something of an unspoken homage to Max, a part of whose book Design and Designers, we reproduced in this issue. Max used Helvetica ubiquitously, and the typesetting of our cover is similar to his.

However, if Max was attempting to elevate the role of graphic design in New Zealand, our own motivations certainly aren't so bold. Like Max though, and like the girl in the photo, we are interested in achieving a slower, more contemplative point of view.

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