V&A displays protest art by climate change activists Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an exciting movement. This progressive collective, calling for urgent action on climate change through acts of non-violent civil disobedience and disruption, has grown into an international force. XR’s first public action was in October 2018, when it urged the UK government to declare an ecological emergency and commit to reducing emissions to net-zero by 2025. Now there are some 363 XR groups active in 59 countries – all with a unified message. XR makes a visual statement wherever they appear thanks to the Art Group, an XR coalition of graphic designers and artists responsible for formulating a visual language that is powerful and works on a global scale.

Now, the V&A in London has acquired a series of XR protest artwork to explore how design, strong graphics and illustration, as well as the use of colour have contributed to the success of this explosive movement. On display in the Rapid Response Collecting gallery, are a collection of symbols and flags including the brilliant ‘extinction symbol’. Originally created in 2011 by the street artist ESP, it has since been adopted by XR featuring a circle to represent earth and a stylised hourglass to signify the end of time. 

The strong graphic impact of the extinction symbol, alongside a clear set of design principles, have ensured that their acts of rebellion are immediately recognisable,’ says Corinna Gardner, senior curator of design and digital at the V&A, who feels design has been a critical component of the group’s success. ‘Punchy colours, woodblock prints, and carefully worded slogans available for download empower members of the public to produce their own creative responses that collectively amplify the XR’s call to action.’

XR’s graphics are characterised by four core design elements: the use of the extinction symbol, the XR logotype, and a colour-palette of 12 playful tones including ‘lemon’ yellow and ‘angry’ pink – influenced by pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi – and the fonts ‘FUCXED’. Theirs has been about balancing joy and anger and with a bold, tongue-in-cheek approach, juxtaposing imagery of the natural world with skulls and bones. Gardner says XR’s design approach stands in relation to earlier protest movements, namely the Suffragettes who encouraged the wearing of purple, green and white to visually communicate their cause.

The V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting programme enables the acquisition and immediate display of design objects that address questions of social, political, technological and economic change. Since 2014, the collection has grown to over thirty objects that chart the impact of contemporary design on the world today.

These latest objects are fascinating in that they collectively reveal how XR has harnessed the power of open-source design to develop a coherent and impactful visual identity. The rebellion to save this planet is a global protest and XR have shown that design can play a crucial role in amplifying the message. The group’s urgent visuals articulate hope, simultaneously outlining the grave consequences of climate change.

All images (c) Chris J Ratcliffe Getty Images for the V&A

Futura: The Typeface placed type in the context of design history

The Nazis hated Futura. They deemed the typeface as too radical – subversive even. Members of Bauhaus embraced it for its radicalism, and it came to be associated with the movement from 1919 through to 1933, when the school was forced to close and its members dispersed around the world. Futura: the Typeface examines the fascinating story of this popular type. Published this month by Laurence King, the book taps into a new movement in exploring type as an art form, re-discovering histories that tell of a time and a place, and of its intricate craft. The stylish hardback features 500 illustrations and includes essays by design writers Steven Heller, Erik Spiekermann and Christopher Burke. Crucially, Future places type in the wider context of design history.

Futura was authored by Paul Renner, a German designer who wasn’t officially part of Bauhaus yet shared the movement’s ideology. He crafted the typeface in 1927 based on geometric sans-serif forms, and it was released in the same year by the Bauer Type Foundry. Experimenting with sans-serif types was part of a larger movement at the time, yet Futura became one of the more prominent typefaces of the period. Bauhaus leader Lazlo Maholy-Nagy was a fan as was the American Paul Rand who liked its functionality noting that it was devoid of ‘doodahs and ringlets’. Later Stanley Kubrick made use of a derivative Futura Bold in his films. Most recently for their 2017 menswear label Jijibaba, designers Jasper Morrison and Jaime Hayon featured Futura in their logo. It also found its place in history books by being the first typeface to land on the moon in 1969.

‘In this fast-moving digital world, this copycat world we live in, the importance of typography is even more felt,’ says Adam Thomas, the creative director and partner at London creative agency Spinach. ‘This includes the origins of type, the small thing that make good typography so right, elements that can so easily be overlooked. While the modern day graphic designers spin themselves off their axis trying to keep up with the latest design trends and fashions, the more traditionally-focused, admirers of strong, classical design, proportion, elegance, refinement, balance, it is those who I feel stand to gain the most.’

Nargess Banks

Futura: The Typeface is written by Petra Eisele, Annette Ludwig and Isabel Naegele and published by Laurence King. It is available to purchase this month.

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Pop in to The Life Negroni pop-up shop

We have a pop-up shop in London next week, for five days only, dedicated to all things The Life Negroni, our latest book. Located in the heart of Shoreditch, in Old Street, the space is designed to excite any true bon vivant and aficionados of the cocktail. Here on sale will be copies of The Life Negroni, and unique prints and posters inspired by the art, design and advertising featured in the book.

The Life Negroni Pop-Up Shop

The Life Negroni Pop-Up Shop

Published by Spinach Publishing, The Life Negroni is the story of the illustrious cocktail and the world it represents. This delicious 300-page coffee table book is the story of the history, ingredients, personalities, music, art, design, fashion, poetry and politics.

And we’ve been receiving some incredible reviews!

Stephen Bayley wrote in The Spectator: ‘It is a gorgeous book offering voyeuristic insights into a way of life which may never have existed anywhere other than the imagination, but one that is no less intoxicating for that…’

‘Be warned: this is a gripping read,’ wrote Time Out

The book takes the readers on a little road trip of sorts around the world to meet the distillers, mixologists, drink historians, aficionados and aesthetes who champion the Negroni. We visit craft gin distillers in London, makers of Vermouth di Torino in Piedmont, and the king of all bitters Campari in Milan.

We trace the drink’s history to 1919 and its alleged birthplace in Florence, and meet with the ancestor of the contesting Corsican family. We explore a world far beyond a cocktail – one that has been the patron of the arts, has embraced pioneering design, branding and advertising, of free spirits.

The Life Negroni is a story that spans generations. It is a story of Italy, of la dolce vita, of Futurism, of aperitivo. It is a story of love and duels, fought to preserve the spirit of a cocktail. It is, above all, a celebration of the pleasures of living.

To quote Stephen Bayley once more: ‘I was reminded of Luc Sante’s epic No Smoking of 2004, a masterpiece of book design. It is an album, a love letter, a guide, a memoir and a rich source of graphic delight. Only hedonists would enjoy such a thing.’

The shop will be open from November 30 to 4 December in Old Street Underground Station, London EC1Y 1BE.

Read more about the book here.


Book review: Speculative Everything

Should design purely concern itself with problem solving, or the aesthetics, making objects more beautiful, more usable… or should it also act as critique, agitate even? This is the premise behind an interesting book recently published by MIT Press, Speculative Everything.

Authors Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, both professors at London’s Royal College of Art, have been proponents of ‘critical design’ – a term they coined in the mid 1990s from their frustration at the uncritical drive behind technological progress. Critical design is essentially the opposite of affirmative design – design that reinforces the status quo. It isn’t negative for the sake of it, contrary or opinionated commentary, but offers real solutions.

It thrives on the imagination and can encourage a free flow of thinking thus helping to redefine our relationship with reality. You could argue it’s about dealing with un-reality. This isn’t about trying to pin the future down, Dunne and Raby argue, but understanding the possible futures and using them as tools to better understand the present and therefore open up discourse on the future.

Speculative Everything argues that there is the need for more dialogue – to place design speculation in relation to futurology, speculative culture including literature, cinema, fine art and radical social sciences.

The argument makes complete sense in today’s world where design is often treated in a very superficial way, as styling (a term you often hear car companies use), the wrapper, the final selling point. This is a time when design is hugely commercialised and increasingly passive to technology. And it goes without saying that operating within a commercial world can limit the imagination, kill real creativity and leave little space for radical design thinking. And we need radical design thinking more than any other time.

Here the authors propose giving conceptual design more power. To elevate it to be more than a style option, more than a piece of propaganda for a company or self-promotion for a designer, which is what it essentially has become. I personally notice this very much in the world of cars, where companies often use concept cars as a way of self promoting their so called innovative side. It is often, not always of course, showy with very little substance.

Conceptual design does need to be more socially engaged, raise awareness, inspire, reflect, offer solutions rather than cover up existing issues – be a catalyst for change. ‘If something is conceptual,’ write Dunne and Raby, ‘it is only an idea, but that is missing the point. It is because it is an idea that it is important.’

Speculative Everything isn’t a passive book. The authors offer examples from emerging cultural landscapes. We look at scenarios in industrial design, architecture, fashion, fine art, cinema and photography as well as drawing on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology and literature, to see how freedom can enable designers to examine intriguing possibilities.

And there are plenty of really exciting projects going on around us that are addressing design in this manner. Only this week I spoke with a couple of designers who are almost inventing new sounds for electric vehicles that works in harmony with the urban environment. They are addressing something as seemingly simple as electric engine noise in a whole new manner working with musicians and practitioners from outside the automotive world with intriguing results. More on this later.

Ultimately Dunne and Raby argue that speculative design can be a catalyst for social dreaming.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Speculative Everything is published by MIT Press.

Read our book review Design as Politics.

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