Touching the bar

The end of October signals the clocks going back, Halloween and the run up to Bonfire night. It also signals another Keynote event from Apple. As a freelance designer, I rely on my Macbook Pro and it suffers from heavy usage on a daily basis. So I was really looking forward to seeing what Apple was going to do with the 2016 model.

On Thursday, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, released the latest range of new MacBook Pro’s featuring a touch bar (which they “accidently” leaked), an enhanced performance boost and an enlarged trackpad. Check it out below:

First the positives. The spec bump is amazing. The top of the range 15 inch Macbook Pro with 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD, Radeon Pro 455 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory and 16GB RAM wipes the floor with the previous Macbook. And the design of it is gorgeous. Its thinner, slicker, available in two finishes and the trackpad is double the size. Now I know most people will think, but I use a mouse so why do I need such a big trackpad? Well when working on the go (which I do quite frequently), sometimes workspace is at a premium and you may have little choice but to use the trackpad. Personally, I don’t mind as I’m used to working solely with the trackpad (but if I have the space, the Magic Mouse is out).

The new touch bar looks like it will definitely be of practical use and not just another gimmick with seamless integration with all the Adobe Creative Cloud products.

Now the negatives… 4 USB-C ports! Really?! So I can no longer plug in the superdrive, 2TB portable hard drive and the several 32GB USB sticks I have without a dongle? Thanks Tim!

Apple have also decided it deems the HDMI port obsolete. So that’s not getting hooked up to my 40″ HDMI TV without… a dongle! Ok I can Airplay to Apple TV at home but what if I need to present to a client on-site?

Next, no SD card slot. Ok this doesn’t affect me as much but if Apple was going out of there way to piss off professional photographers they’ve succeeded! But don’t worry, if you have to plug one in, you can always use an SD-card reader… oh wait… you’ll need a dongle with that!

But with USB-C you can plug in up to two USB-C displays and two USB-RAID drives. Great! So say I do that, how do I charge the Macbook. That’s right everyone… A DONGLE!

Do you know how many dongles I have to use with my current Macbook Pro… one! And that is to plug a standard screen into my Thunderbolt port. So will a spec bump and touch bar convince me to part with the better part of £3,000 to upgrade my laptop… not this time! Which is great because my current MacBook Pro has actually increased in price on the Apple Store!

So what else could you spend £3,000 on? Well the day before the Apple Keynote, Microsoft launched this:

The Surface Studio unveil dazzled with a dramatic cover of “Pure Imagination”. Behind the scenes, Microsoft used a robotic camera arm to capture the ad controlled by an Xbox One controller of all things!

The angles you can now work at on the Surface Studio means you can now realistically sketch ideas directly on your work desktop and then adjust the angle to then refine your ideas. The new Surface Dial is a nice touch as well. The ability to use it to adjust the colour spectrum, size of brushes, etc without interrupting your workflow makes this a great tool.

In comparison to the latest range of iMac’s, this holds its own against most models, even the 4K display models. Only the top of the line 27″ model edges ahead thanks to its 5K retina display.

The only thing going against the Surface Studio vs the iMac is the operating system! The release of Sierra means Apple’s MacOS is still far superior to Windows 10.

Where the Surface Studio does have the iMac beat is in the design… it’s bold, it’s beautiful and innovating! Yes I just said that about a Microsoft product! This level of innovation is where the iMac should have been by now!

Lets not forget, ever since the Apple II, Mac’s have always been the prefered tool of the creatives. I’m talking designers, artists, video editors, photographers, etc. Ok, the iMac was the first ‘all in one’ computer that was marketed to ‘everyone’ built with access to the internet as its core function. But the design has always been cutting edge and each release raised the bar. Somewhere along the way, Apple has forgotten this in it’s pursuit of the smartphone and tablet market. Since 2013 in fact (the last time the Mac Pro was updated I might add) for some reason the desktop machine has stopped innovating.

With Google making waves in the smartphone market with it’s Pixel (with reviewers praising the camera in particular) and now Microsoft finally making a decent computer to rival the Mac, maybe now is the time for Apple to put their thinking caps back on and start raising that bar!

This is Alan speaking

On the eve of the announcement of the new line of Macbooks from Apple, I thought I would dedicate today's blog to the pioneer of computer science, Alan Turing. Without him, we wouldn't have had the breakthrough in personal computer technology. More than that, his work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War was responsible for breaking the Enigma code which helped the allies win the war (I would highly recommend watching the film "The Imitation Game" for the full story behind this).

A popular urban myth is that Steve Jobs was inspired by the story of Turin’s death by biting into a cyanide-laced apple, which lead to the design of the iconic Apple logo. When actor Stephen Fry asked him if this was the case, Jobs simply replied, “God, we wish it were.”

So as a tribute to this great man, a new art installation was recently unveiled by United Visual Artists. Check it out below:

Curated by Futurecity and sited underneath a bridge near Paddington station in London, “Message from the Unseen World” runs the width of the underside of Bishop’s Bridge Road and is the result of a collaboration with poet and playwright, Nick Drake. As passersby walk alongside the installation, words spelled out in white LEDs seem to light up then fade away. Only by stepping back to take the whole piece in from a single viewpoint can visitors see the complete feed of Drake’s poem, which sees Turing speaking posthumously about his life – beginning with the line “This is Alan speaking”.

The text display is controlled by an algorithm that throws up combinations of letters and words – so the poem disintegrates and fractures as new words replace the previous ones. The holes for the LEDs also spell out a coded version of extracts from Turing’s text, Computing Machinery and Intelligence which was written in 1950 to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

I personally think that Turing would have approved of this work. It is a moving piece that provides a busy commuter passageway with an area for a moments pause for thought.

It's f****n' good

I'll begin by stating with all the best intentions in the world, I do try and eat healthy. That being said, there are the odd occasions where either I'm up against a client deadline or I'm stuck in traffic coming back from working on site and the option of a boneless KFC meal becomes really appealing!

So it was a pleasant surprise when I pulled into the local drive thru to see that KFC have changed their visual language to a cleaner, typographic approach designed by BBH London. Check it out below:

The posters draw on the recent new identity for the brand, created by Grand Army in New York, and pair it with some provocative use of text. In one ad, the brand’s key phrase ‘it’s finger lickin’ good’ is presented partly redacted, suggesting that it means, well, something else.

This campaign follows a recent trend in fast-food branding for simple styling and ‘authenticity’. For KFC, this involved reaching back into their history by re-introduced the stripes of the original packaging. With food imagery plastered all over sites such as Instagram, KFC is instead opting to use design, typography and its history (alongside the odd picture of its burgers) to stand out in an extremely crowded market.

As I ordered my boneless bucket at 9pm (which doesn’t actually come in a bucket anymore), it was great to see how this stripped back approach actually makes it clearer to see the choice of menu available to me, rather than the instantly forgettable mess that greeted me previously. Indeed, at night the neon signs illuminating the crisp white panel made it so much easier to read. Compared to the dingy Pizza Hut that sat directly next door, the branding certainly looked a lot more appealing which helps draw you in.

Also it nice to see a brand that is willing to have a little fun with it’s proposition. As I got home and served up the boneless pieces of chicken I did think to myself: “Yeah, it does taste f****n good!”

Capital K!

In todays world of digital cameras and smartphones, it seems alien to think that, not long ago, you took a picture on a clunky camera. You then had to take your 35mm film to a photo shop and wait a few days for the film to be developed before being handed an envelope of your memories on photo paper... that's right... paper!

Arguably, one of the most iconic brands of this era was Kodak. I say was… Kodak are still around! Nowadays though, they are known for targeting the professional and business level with print systems and other enterprise solutions. But now, they’re getting back into the consumer market!

Kodak recently released the Ektra, a photography-first smartphone, and at CES this year announced the return of the Super 8 camera and film. To coincide with this return as a more general consumer brand, Kodak has reinstated its iconic logo with an identity update by New York based Work-Order. Check out the evolution below:

Although this is more of a revival than a rebrand, its not to say that the logomark that preceded it was wrong. In fact it was one of the first brands to introduce the modern geometric sans which is a prevalent trend in branding nowadays.

What this brand aims to achieve is a renewed sense of consumer confidence in a brand that is rich in historical equity. In terms of the mark, there is little difference between this and the original 1971 logo. If there was one criticism of the previous logo it was the awkward way that capital K sat so close to the point in the centre of the icon. By introducing Commercial Type’s Graphik as the main typeface, this allows the wordmark to be used vertically instead, which is a great way to modernise the logo and make it feel fresher. “But what happens when used at smaller sizes?” I hear you cry. The beauty of reverting to a brand that has so much equity is you could choose to lose the wordmark altogether and it would still be instantly recognise it as Kodak.

Work-Order explains the new design aims to bring a more unified look back to the brand – the K will appear as a manufacturer’s stamp on everything from batteries to camera boxes:

“Since the early 20th Century, Kodak’s packaging and marketing materials have been blanketed in a warm yellow with red and black features. Our aim was to re-establish this strength and to never abandon the use of yellow on anything.”

The prototype packaging looks awesome! Clean, minimalistic and elegant on a par with Apple’s packaging. Let’s hope the cleanliness is retained when it eventually makes it to the shop floor.

When summarising the rebrand, Kodak’s VP of global brand and creative Dany Atkins claims:

“We have gone back to what we do best, we make products that enable creativity and we are celebrating our heritage whilst looking very much forward to the future.” 

For me, it’s a definite return to form for a brand that at one point was on the brink of becoming obsolete. Here’s hoping they can continue to innovate for another 128 years!

Note 7 is dead! Long live Pixel!

Yesterday, Samsung was one of the largest and most recognised brands in the world. Today that brand is tarnished!

The announcement of Samsung’s worldwide recall of the Galaxy Note 7 closes the chapter on how NOT to make a smartphone. After months of contending with customers complaining of phones spontaneously combusting, Samsung has had little choice but to pull the plug on the production line. A far cry from when the Note 7’s release in August to highly positive reviews and the battle cry of this being the product that changes the smartphone game!

The fallout from this will be debated internally for years to come and the short term damage to the brand will impact on their share price ($20bn has already been wiped off its market value). However, the main theory is simple… they rushed it! Samsung were so keen to launch the Note 7 ahead of rival Apple’s iPhone 7 that they ended up releasing a product that simply wasn’t ready.

So how damaged will Samsung feel now its woes have sent Apple’s share price to a 10-month high?

So what will fill the void left by the absence of the Note 7? That’s where Pixel comes in.

The campaign by Droga5 which teased the new phone was cool in the way it used its search bar to morph into the shape of a smartphone while covering up the detail of what you wanted to see in the background before revealing the phone with the tagline: ‘Life by you. Phone by Google’. all in all, a solid ad.

The next part of the campaign is the ‘new, new’ ad. “Need a new phone?” it asks. “Like new new? Like doesn’t have a version number new?” Among the “new new” features include a 7-hour capacity battery that charges in 15 minutes, what Google bills as the “highest rated smartphone camera ever,” and they even joke that it has a headphone jack as a little dig at Apple.

The design of the phone itself, nothing too revolutionary. It has all the touch sensitivity you would expect of a smartphone, it has an Aerospace-grade aluminum unibody on the back with Gorilla Glass on the front which makes it fairly light, it has 4GB RAM and unlimited storage (via cloud backup). Will any of this win the Android crowd over… not really.

What will make this phone sell ultimately is the software. Just as iPhone has it’s iOS, Google has it’s Android OS which has been around for a while. However, the phone will come with the upgraded Android 7.1 Nougat which will have a Google built-in assistant which more than rival Apple’s Siri. This assistant is exclusive to Pixel and won’t be available with the 7.1 update on other rival devices. Also transferring your data from an old Android or Apple device is a doddle.

The smartphone software also comes ready for Google’s new VR headset which will be launched next month. We will cover this in the next couple of weeks. Watch this space.

This is Google’s first foray into hardware (OK HTC made the phone but we’ll breeze past that). The question is, with Samsung against the ropes, the discontinuation of the Nexus line and the exclusivity of the Google Assistant, will this be the phone to rival Apple’s supremacy?

No More Tofu

Before we start, if you think the title of todays blog represents is a stance against vegans or soya-based food products, then think again!

‘Tofu’ is the nickname used for the blank boxes that appear when a computer or website is unable to display a particular character because there is no font support for that language. We’ve all been there. We want to type a particular character (especially when working on a multi-language project with Mandarin or Urdu) and all we get is:

Annoying, isn’t it!

In an attempt to solve this, Google and Monotype have collaborated in what is being billed as ‘one of the largest typeface projects in human history’ to create a free, single typeface family that encompasses some 800 written languages and hundreds of thousands of characters. Check it out below:

Designed over five years, The name, Noto, comes from Google’s initial brief to Monotype which was ‘no more tofu’. The challenge was to create fonts for all of the 800 languages included in the Unicode Consortium standard for software internationalisation, which includes many little-spoken or so-called ‘dead’ languages. Hence, eradicating ‘tofu’ from our screens for good!

For each language, Noto includes letters in multiple serif and sans serif styles across up to eight weights, as well as numbers, emoji, symbols and musical notation.

The project involved hundreds of researchers, designers, linguists, cultural experts and project managers around the world. While this started out as a project to ‘create fonts for all devices’, what this has ended up achieving goes far beyond this. It has allowed rarely spoken languages such as Lycian, Fulani and Ogham, to be digitally preserved for the first time. As Bob Jung, Director of Internationalisation at Google put it, this project has enabled us to “keep information alive”.

“When it comes to some of these lesser-used languages, or even the purely academic or dead languages, we think it’s really important to preserve them. Without the digital capability of Noto, it’s much more difficult to preserve that cultural resource.”

It’s a pun, I know, but this is truly a ‘legacy’ font. It finally gives dead languages that haven’t been used in centuries a digital heritage so it will never again be lost to future generations.

Ok in real world application, we probably won’t ever need to use Lycian, but its a nice thought isn’t it? It’s certainly better than tofu boxes!

Google Noto is open source under OFL (Open Font License), meaning that designers and developers can contribute to the design of the scripts. It is free to use and available to download here.

A chip off the old block

It's safe to say that banking has been through a tough time in recent years. It's been 8 years since the financial crisis, but the ramifications of this are still being felt today. One of the biggest casualties of this was Royal Bank of Scotland, which ended up being saved from extinction by the taxpayer! It's safe to say that with consumer confidence at an all time low, especially since the Brexit vote, many in the financial institutions feel like they have lost their integrity.

Natwest, who are part of RBS, has chosen to address this in their new, We are What we Do campaign. This included a new ad filmed in black and white that asks viewers to hold the bank to account for its actions. Check it out below:

To coincide with a new campaign, NatWest recently introduced a revised logo designed by the London office of Futurebrand. Check it out below:

FutureBrand has redesigned the visual identity and logo for NatWest, basing the revamp on the bank’s original 3D logo from 1968. The logo was originally designed as three interlocking cubes to represent the coming together of National Provincial Bank, Westminster Bank and District Bank. The existing logo was a simplified and flattened version of that form.

The red and purple combination looks great on the cubes and works particularly good on the purple background. Unfortunately when used on a white background the cubes lose some of their impact.

At first I wasn’t so sure of this direction. The previous arrows (or chevrons as NatWest liked to call them) gave the message of a forward-thinking bank and signified mobility. The cubes are more solid and static in nature. But thinking about it, perhaps that’s the point. It signifies a strong, solid foundation on which they can build their reputation on.

The language of the cubes is extended through a custom alphabet and illustration style which forms the basis of the new visual language for the brand.

I do admit, the new brand paired with this visual language style looks good. The pastel colours that have been chosen complement the core red and purple colours really well. Ok it’s not in keeping with the simple colours of the logo or the black and white ad campaign, but it certainly stands out on the high street.

The only issue I have is that the original gradient style from the logo hasn’t been translated to either the type or the illustrations which to me misses a trick. You invest the time to bring back a piece of work from 1968 to establish trust and then don’t follow this through?

Overall, a solid update, but I can’t help but feel that if they’d have pushed this a bit further and taken the gradients through to the visual language it would have turned this up a notch and elevated it from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Textless and beautiful

I've always been a fan of the art of the movie poster. Some of my favorites include the old Hitchcock posters from Saul Bass and the cool retro posters from old 80's movies. But what has happened of late? Are the movie posters of this decade becoming... well... boring?

Back in 2013, YouTuber GoodBadFlicks took a look at contemporary movie posters and was like, “Ugh, these are the worst.” I must admit… he’s not wrong! In this look back at the history of movie-marketing artwork, it’s completely apparent that poster art has recently become lazy, boring, and generally awful. Watch the video to see just how dire things have gotten for posters:

As an antidote to this, I present to you this collection of 80 high-resolution film posters from Reddit user Join_You_In_The_Sun that have been stripped of any text as a reminder of how eye catching these posters used to be. Here are a selection of my favourites below:

You can check out the rest of the collection here.

I might have to dust off my minimalist movie poster collection soon…

Hop to it

I do love a good rebrand. I also like the odd beer now and again. So it's pleasing to see Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame, having its first rebrand in over 18 years, created by Kent-based JDO. Check it out:

Gone is the red, blue, orange and white from the previous brand to just grey and gold in the new palette. The signature shepherd’s staff icon has been updated to include a hops leaf, while an arc has been incorporated over the top to represent the Kent countryside.

The wordmark has been updated to a more contemporary inline typeface and the logo as a whole has been cleaned up and stripped back. But what’s nice about this is that JDO has managed to retain the unique, organic look of the icon and the addition if the hop leaf gives it a more crafted feel as you would expect from a brewery with as much history as Shephard Neame, whose brand portfolio includes Spitfire, Whitstable Bay and Bishop’s Finger.

There’s not much to show in application as it’s only just begun rolling out across the Shepherd Neame pub and hotel estate nationwide, as well as its product ranges, merchandise and internal brand communications. But the execution on the exterior of the brewery and on the distillers looks sharp. The new identity will be rolled out on more collateral including the the website at a later date.

Previously the logo only sat off a red background. The new cleaner logo allows it to sit off a multitude of backgrounds and is flexible enough to be used in one colour gold, whiteout with inline gold off dark backgrounds, or black with inline gold for lighter backgrounds. Its this flexibility which will help make this new logo stand the test of time a lot better than its predecessor.

All in all, a solid update which modernises without losing its heritage.

Pins Won't Save The World

With the US Presidential debates kicking off this week, the race for the White House is getting heated! So Sagmeister & Walsh has launched "Pins Won’t Save the World", a range of pin badges, t-shirts, stickers and patches that protest against Donald Trump and encourage people to vote for Hillary Clinton. Check them out below:

The range of pins, T-shirts, posters, stickers and temporary tattoos include designs by Sagmeister & Walsh, Hort, Olimpia Zagnoli, Brian Rea, Jean Jullien, Timothy Goodman, Ward Sutton, Will Bryant, Coucou Suzette, AdamJK, RoAndCo Studio and Jon Contino.

According to Jessica Walsh, the idea behind creating pin badges is to appeal to younger voters, as only 26% of millennials voted in the 2012 election, accounting for around 48m missed votes.

As a protest piece I think these pins are spot on! It reminds me of the Viz comics and the Spitting Image series of the 80s. In a world where a man like Donald Trump is even considered as a viable ‘Presidential Candidate’ anything like this is a welcome reminder of just how much of a joke this is!

As for the actual campaign, Sagmeister & Walsh states: ‘We know pins won’t save the world, but wearing them might make us feel better.’ And in reality, that’s the whole point. But if it helps swing a few votes Clinton’s way then we’re all for it!

You can view more of the work and purchase items at Profits from the sales will be donated to Amnesty International’s #americaIbelievein charity.