Photo Retouching / Rescue

As a person I love to see things salvaged, whether it be a classic old banger restored to its former glory or a building renovated; so long as it remains functional and in tune with modern life.

Recently I was asked by family to restore some old photographs. Due to a combination of factors such as the development processes involved at the time, as well as natural detoriation and scratching — these had faded rather heavily.

One of my Great-Great-Grandfathers, this photograph is over one hundred years old.

Like many processes the quality of the starting point determines the output, so I scanned each item in high resolution (about 6000 ppi) and then proceeded to analyse images on a channel by channel basis, repairing scratches and tears, and repaint in lost areas of detail. Once the repair had reached a suitable level I flattened the results and focused on restoring the contrast: first by particular area, then overall. The beauty of photoshop is there are multiple methods of achieving a result, so its often a case of experimenting with these methods in order to achieve the best results. Some factors such as poor focus at time of photograph can only be remedied to a degree, but I hope this example shows that even with photographs — some things deemed lost can be brought from the brink.

House party at Dave’s

Party at Dave's After a long playlist–generation hiatus, I’ve created a new house party themed list. Its not new or cutting edge music, just a meticulous arrangement of songs I’ve picked out over the past few days. This kind of mix is something I like to dip into now and again  after listening to dreary indie all day long; just to keep ‘it real’.

For the cover I thought I’d take an established image and turn it on its head. In this example its the famous chancellor/briefcase pose used for the UK budget. Sending up authority is always amusing (as too is the juxtaposition of socio-economic classes), hence George is holding out a boombox instead. I liked the cover idea so much that I’ve expanded on it further. The image below is a composition of found net images; utilising this technique is like being a ‘visual’ DJ, which is why it suits the project!

House Party at Dave's


Almost a month ago Digg released v4 of its interface; I’ve been holding out commenting on it to see how the situation unfolded. I guess on the whole the majority of users won’t have heard about Digg, so to quote wikipedias definition:

Digg is a social news website made for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the Internet, by submitting links and stories, and voting and commenting on submitted links and stories…

I believe the whole furore surrounding the release of version 4 will inevitably influence the direction other internet sites will take.

Ever since the term ‘web 2.0′ was coined to describe how social media and user interaction would take the internet into a new era there has been a surge toward user generated content. Control has shifted from the establishment to the individual. Any user with access to a computer can publish content and broadcast to as many people as say a traditional newspaper columnist. This in essence defines the modern era of the internet – opensource, sharing, user generated content and feedback. Inevitably, the ‘suits’ have been hard at work trying to figure out a suitable mechanic of harnessing the massive outreach and converting this to revenue. To date this has been achieved through advertising, and later individually targeted advertising.

Take Facebook as an example, the premise: its a social utility site that allows users to register, then insert their personal details as well as likes and dislikes, and connect to other people they may or may not know. The real business model is somewhat more ingenius; as opposed to the potentially hit-and-miss method of printing an advert in a newspaper or magazine (or even plonking an advert on a popular web site), facebook is a precision marketing tool with surgical-strike accuracy. As users we supply our own market information: our age, location, what we are into, what films we love, what music we are into, what groups we are part of – this data they hold is completely accurate as we ourselves put it in. Hence Facebook holds a database of all our personal details, and just so happens to offer an advertising facility that can pinpoint any range of individuals within this source. Unprecedented market reach combined with precision accuracy is a potent mix. Now all of a sudden the owner Mark Zucherburg is richer than Steve Jobs of Apple — that’s how much leverage that mix achieves.

Back on topic, Digg is a social news website — users don’t personally know each other, what people say or post is much more important than who people are, so there is no necessity to divulge your personal information. In Digg v3 users found the stories or threads themselves either through searching or most commonly through ‘up voting’ articles they found interesting, they could also ‘bury’ stories from advertisers trying to tap into the user base. The ability for users to stop advertisers in their tracks combined with the miniscule user data (and targeting)  presented a weak business model with little leverage for advertising fees.

So came the deal with the Devil: the release of Digg v4, which saw the removal of the Bury button – users can still hide the stories after seeing them, but cannot prevent the promotional content from reaching other users. The biggest sin is that you now follow channels submitted by ‘the establishment’, rather than from grass roots users; this is a regressive direction not in tune with the current era. Digg’s answer to the problem was to ram the advertisers messages as pseudo news stories down their users throats, and to neutralise user controls. Furthermore Digg took a thriving community and sold them out wholesale to advertisers. The immediate backlash was palpable, which led previous CEO Kevin Rose to duck out and hire someone else to take the flack.

I fully expect the Digg community to dwindle. I also think that the desperate business decisions of the founder have led to the alienation of their basecore. The only positive to take from this scenario is that if Digg does indeed  fail — or in the very least scramble to undo the damage, then other companies will not be so keen to make the same mistakes.

New lies

One of my peeves in the industry is that the term ‘new’ is commonly perceived as something that has never done before; seemingly plucked out the sky from the dexterous digits of a proficient genius.

My belief is ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ In fact the definition of the words ‘new’ and ‘fad’ are interchangeable and relative spins on the same notion. In fact anything new whether it be invented or designed is actually formulated from at least two former things. Even as human beings we are recycled objects. Aside from the obvious genetic construct from two individual sets of DNA, the very atoms we are composed of are borrowed. Both you and I are compositions of atoms that were once part of a plant, animal, soil, dinosaur… even excrement (and yes, some people more than others!) A well established maxim in physics is that ‘Energy is never created merely transferred’. Considering the earth itself was created from cosmic matter, there is truth in the Moby song ‘we are all made of stars.’

Creation occurs through an act Arthur Koestler coined ‘bisociation’ – the intersection of two individual planes of logic at an exact point where both concur. It is the same model for the moment of discovery and for the revelation at the punchline of a joke. This is why anything created HAS to be part-recycled. Anything invented is just the combination of something pre-existing with another plane of logic applied to it in [perhaps] a previously in-conceivable fashion. The more of a jump to reach this idea the more original the credit due. This act of creation is universal; its the same for graphic designers, artists, musicians and engineers.

It’s noteworthy that even the golden section originates from recurring measurements observed in nature. These underlying proportions have been taken and applied to aesthetics in multiple fields of study. A prominent example of this usage is by French architect Le Corbusier.

In the context of design, this construct from two things often occurs in the scenario where the designer has something already but needs an exciting ‘twist’ on it. When it comes down to the sourcing of the additional ‘second plane’ of logic, the phrase ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ applies unashamedly widespread throughout the creative industry.

“Nothing is original, steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from–it’s where you take them to.” –– Jim Jarmusch

In his most famous book of essays, celebrated graphic designer Paul Rand stated why a designer collects other stimulus: “The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and museum are embraced with equal curiosity. He takes snap shots, makes notes, records impressions on tablecloths or newspapers, on backs of envelopes or matchbooks. Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous.”

“Wildly heterogeneous as his inspirational treasures appear, curiosity is the common denominator and the pleasure of discovery an important by-product. The artist takes note of that which jolts him into visual awareness. Without the harvest of visual experience he would be unable to cope with the plethora problems,  mundane or otherwise, that confronts him in his daily work.” — Paul Rand, A Designers Art

Therefore the only originality in the design industry is originality in where you steal from.


Catch the sun

Spotify playlist Number 11: Summer Sounds

For those of you with Seasonal Affective Disorder — fear not — for summer is here again, and about time too! Fingers crossed that we’ve got the volcanic ash and election palaver out of the way – for now anyway – so here’s to a long drawn-out wind-down with chilled drinks in pub gardens, and days at the beach!

I’ve dusted off a few of my favourite seasonal tracks to play this time of the year with a few new ones to boot; so if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck indoors working maybe this will help you get into a summer state of mind.

We can rewind

Spotify playlist Number 10: Modern Retro

I’ve recently been enjoying the upsurge in retro graphic styles and colour usage posted on design and image bookmarking sites. Interestingly this direction correlates with the alternative music scene: the past five years has seen a massive influx of 80s inspired music — whether it be through synthesisers and electro sound effects, writing style, or even mimicking a former popular artists sound.

The popularity of both indie music and the 1980s has also been highlighted in the satirical blog ‘’: ‘Indie music’ and ’80s night’ currently feature in the top 100 list at positions 41 and 29 respectively.

Personally I can’t get enough of this potent mix of genres, and I hope this wave continues in both musical and graphical media formats. This playlist is a bite-size update of retro/power/electro/pop/indie that I’ve been frequently listening to over the past month or so.

Formula one season 2010

After all the build up, the much anticipated Bahrain Grand Prix was a bland affair. The cars can no longer refuel in the pits so carry a full tank from the race start. In turn pitting strategy is less of a factor and positions change less frequently. The cars are slower due to the increased weight and the gap between the cars is bigger, as a result overtaking has suffered. Typically the drama builds much later on, but the current formula seems inert.

The only significantly interesting detail was the new broadcast onscreen graphics. The panels now slant to the same angle as the F1 logo (tut), they also stack at an angle which — although refreshing is an aesthetic modification instead of a functional change. I’ve always believed ‘form follows function’ and not the other way around. The panels feature web 2.0 style gradients which works well apart from the yellow lap time gradient doesn’t work due to the lower colour being far too dirty making the digits less legible. The transition animation is pretty good, although I prefer the old throttle diagram and animation; the new one is uninspiring. A quick look at some viewers comments on various bbc sites with regard to specific statistics now being omitted indicates that this years aesthetic changes have come at the cost of function. That’s not what information design is about.

Substance over substance

I finally got to see Avatar in 3D recently: it really is amazing. It’s been a long time since I’ve become fascinated with a film after viewing.
The human based 3D character animation was incredibly accurate; the animators managed to record and recreate facial micro-gestures. From the close-ups and body animation ‘mannerisms’ I knew it would have to be based on real actor footage, and a further browse through youtube shows exactly how they achieved this. These clips also highlight the professionalism of the actors through difficult circumstances: conveying believable emotion dressed in special suits and rigs, and with an absence of environment.

What made the movie outstanding for me personally was this was the first movie I had seen in 3D glasses! I cannot over emphasise how much the effect enriches the typical cinema viewing to all new sensory levels.

I totally forgive the tried and tested plot line (Dances with wolves, Fern Gully (apparently) etc). I can also [at a push] forgive the lazy font choice.

James Cameron has such a fantastic concept of the future military. I think the reason Aliens was so widely accepted as a successful sequel was he didn’t try and out-play Ridley Scott at his own game; he instead set out to do something else – an action movie based with a strong theme of the military of the future. I also think its ok to be a pacifist yet still be fascinated by the grandeur of military and its mass structuring, repetition, order and graphical markings. Dialogue-wise some lines such as ‘fighting terror with terror’ and the labelling of nations who sit on a resource as an enemy I found to be close to home.

The film seems to nod to surrealist illustrator Roger Dean for inspiration, but also draws reference to Camerons earlier work with the ‘Amp’ mech vs the Alien (but with the audience rooting for the other side this time.) Giovanni Ribisi plays a carbon-copy character of ‘Carter Burke’ in Aliens (essentially a metaphor for corporate mentality or the darkside of the human heart), and the Chief military character was just a cliche idiot – a pantomime villain for the kids. It also has to be said that the final act battle scene had hints of the battle of Endor.

I think the essential ingredient to creating a science fiction masterpeice is addressing a fundamental philosophical concept. The film does contain a philosophical idea such as transfering the human mind and soul to a new host, which in turn opens the door to a huge amount of interesting debate. However I would be hesitant to label the film a masterpeice because of the unoriginal plot; I think the term ‘benchmark’ sits better.

…There is so much more to write about this film, but to summarise this is one of those rare moments where plot can successfully take a backseat to method of story telling (in this case technology) and yet due to the sheer intensity of visual stimulus and richness of experience, not leave you feeling short changed. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope they don’t make a sequel.

Mad for it!

Spotify playlist Number 9: Student Salad Dayz 89-00

These days the nineties are predominantly marketed using ‘old skool’ dance songs. I liked this period but not as much as the britpop period which would follow on a few years later; dance music in the 90’s was really just a logical progression from the late eighties.

Then came the lowest ebb in music history of recent times: the ‘smash-hits’ dance / reggae / vacuous pop period that reached a peak circa 1994. It felt like a period of cheap music created for instant business gain with little substance. In the background, indie music was building up momentum through this period thanks to bands like the stone roses. This culminated in a britpop explosion that peaked about 1996. I always felt that the rise of britpop was due to a knee-jerk reaction to the awful chart music from previous years. Bands like oasis, blur, pulp, and the manics were championed by the press as the front runners to a new epoch that clung to a more traditional resonance.

This collection of songs earmark my youth – a decade in education and teenage angst that seemed to never end, from school to college and eventually university. Nowadays I don’t often listen to this period of music, but its still worth a listen now and again. This playlist is not strictly indie or britpop as some songs belong to other categories, however these tracks suitably belong to the era. Its too bad the Oasis back catalogue is largely absent from Spotify.

By invitation only

As a graphic designer I often get asked to design wedding invites when friends get married. Its a rare situation in design as the client (typically the bride) knows exactly what they want – most brides have a clear vision of the whole event, and a wise groom will toe the line!

As such the project becomes more of a working collaboration, and this latest effort was no different. The bride had the ribbon, paper, and art deco theme already in mind and just needed advice over execution. I provided some examples of art deco typography and various examples of famous design work from the era, as well as visualised different methods of ribbon application. The project workflow was smooth from start to finish and we’re both very pleased with the results!

wedding samples