Design Dialogue

Circle, Square and Triangle.

The first quarter of the twentieth century witnessed an artistic revolution without equal in the history of art. Looking specifically at the works generated in the few years leading up to the First World War, the principles of modern art, architecture and design were established which would impact upon the manner in which we experience, approach and live our lives today.

Shortly after the First World War in 1923, Wassily Kandinsky circulated a questionnaire within the Bauhaus, asking respondents to select and paint a triangle, square, and circle using only one of three primary colours. The findings of this strangely basic process would help to inform colour theory and go on to define approaches to design thinking, impacting thereafter across the disciplines of fashion, graphic communication and architecture.

The three basic shapes, used in Kandinsky’s experiment either applied singularly, repeatedly or in patterns can be seen on some of the earliest artifacts relating to human existence. Examples include ceramics, textiles, buildings and approaches to urban design. Geometric forms employed to decorate, punctuate and inform structure and space.

Joseph Albers (a student and later a teacher at the Bauhaus) developed a modular lettering system informed by ten basic shapes, all derived from a circle and a square. Kombinationschrift – was designed to be efficient, in terms of ease of use (legibility) and inexpensive to produce. The resulting typeface was not as legible as others to emerge from the Bauhaus but Albers’ idea of ‘modularity’ was clearly inline with the philosophy of the Bauhaus, creating refined (streamlined) products for mass production.


Since the experiments and design propositions presented by the Bauhaus, developments in technology, material and process have moved on unimaginably. Computer aided design (CAD) affords a platform for designers to generate complex three-dimensional shapes and structures. But since its adoption CAD has struggled to generate forms that are able to supersede the circle, square or triangle. Perhaps this is why design disciplines regularly return to these basic forms, manipulate and represent them, propelled by new processes and informed by new materials.

From the outset of the digital revolution type designers have embraced emerging technology and pushed the visual envelope of how an alphabet can be represented. Some designers propose complex (almost illegible) solutions whilst to others adopt a highly reductive approach, stripping elements down to the most basic of form. This minimal treatment is currently being adopted within the disciplines of typography and specifically applied to corporate branding.

At this moment in time the application of minimal shapes to form words and imply brands is very much ‘on trend’ – when presented on digital platforms the visuals resonate differently to latterly adopted complex graphic treatments. Perhaps it is this arresting visual calm that is successful, which makes this work stand out, and in a world bombarded with digital pattern, information and noise affords a calm, contemplative designed solution.


Hello is a design studio. Their logotype omits and ingests a number of the original horizontal elements within the leterforms, deconstructing the anatomy of letters to the most basic of forms – this design treatment almost erases any options of legibility for some elements entirely. The design elects to exaggerate the punctuation situating the brand marque definitively. Initially difficult to read but once the visual system has been embraced, comfortable enough thereafter.


Shape is an educational initiative. Three basic forms are adopted, repeated and re-assembled manufacturing a small range of letterforms. A valid graphic approach when constructing limited words but difficult to develop into a complete alphabet (if only upper case) should a broader identity system be demanded.


Host (or Thoughtful Host) is a cultural destination, gallery and workshop – the brand was designed by Neat. The four letter shapes are coordinated and juxtaposed to construct the brand marque. The proposal was designed to function in solid colour, outline and specifically when laser cut for signage and wayfinding.

Each logotype adopts a collection of minimal shapes to spell out the title of their respective brands. Hello deconstructs the word, removing all horizontal elements and composing a new word-shape. This process affords the reader a task to reassemble the elements and define their own meaning. Shape simply applies component parts (shapes in themselves) to construct the word – the picture becomes the word and the word denotes the picture. Host employs elements of both creative processes, constructing and defining letter shapes, visually proposing a less onerous legibility conundrum (supposedly).

Does this work signal a directional change toward a minimal approach to brand and identity? perhaps, but there is still space for complex typo/graphic treatments and not forgetting animated design proposals, accommodating the ever expanding digital platforms.

Successful ‘living brands’ respond to market trends and forecast their own, navigating media platforms to ensure that they deliver. Manifested in print, motion and across three dimensions. Whilst these current design proposals draw upon the design practice established by the Bauhaus (consciously or not) they also reflect the values and ideals set up by the modernist designers working in the last century. They were navigating the largest social and political change ever seen across Europe and the wider world – something we too are presently, having to consider and respond to.

As this approach to brand design and corporate identity expands more variants are emerging – the following are some further examples:


Mous have developed a protective case for mobile telephones.


London Design Fair – this event broadcasts its presence using a bespoke, deconstructed stencil typeface. Constructing a contemporary brand marque whilst embracing elements of warehouse utilitarian signage graphics.

Letterpress at Studio B

To help inform our approach to design Neat regularly engage in continual professional development (CPD). This takes many forms from the attendance in design forums, print and publishing exhibitions and software training. One activity which we engage in regularly is letterpress printing workshops at Studio B.

Letterpress by its nature is time consuming and although linked securely to the principles of graphic design and typography, it’s method feels a million miles away from our regular siting, that adjacent to a computer. Letterpress printing is a physical process, each stage needs careful consideration as to alter it, as projects progress can be time consuming and laborious. Once printing is complete, the process does not end – letters have to be cleaned, returned to their specific sections in designated cases and the spaces between the letters put away too.

Although time consuming, the process does afford a rare contemplative space, foreign to our contemporary world punctuated by a digital bombardment – there is no ‘cold calling’ or ‘junk email’ to navigate and once completed, hands are washed and physical work that has been generated celebrated – honest, labour loved.

Our letterpress work is currently on display in Ireland (Dublin – Print Museum), America (Hamilton Type Museum – Wisconsin) and held in the V&A permanent collection.

We do not carry out commercial letterpress projects but are always engaged in ‘projects that Matter’, currently we are making work for the ‘While You Were Sleeping’ project initiated by Sara Burgess. The following text introduces the project, its rationale and emphasis.

While You Were Sleeping – Sara Burgess

In 1440, Gutenberg transformed the way the world received its information, spreading news and ideas to those who wouldn’t have access otherwise. Today’s technology has introduced a barrage of tweets, feeds, email, txts. And as before, a world of good and bad rode in along with it. I live and print in Amsterdam now, but California is still very much a part of my life. But this last year the US morning news has become the painful, daily affront to my morals, beliefs, and principles. I am pained and shamed by what has become of my country in such a short time. I feel a kind of outrage I have not experienced before and often a need to numb and brace myself with an apathy driven only by self-preservation. It often feels that while I was sleeping another irreplaceable piece of land, another human right, another cornerstone of decent values was erased. While I was sleeping. And now it’s gone.

I propose a project to highlight those events that rock our every day. That makes me afraid for the future my five-year-old faces. That makes me ashamed of my privilege. That makes me cry when he can’t hear me. That depletes me, on behalf of our defenseless planet. That makes me fear the new treatment that women will face. That makes me say, just how does someone get away with this?

I call on the letterpress community to join me in print. To return to the truth. To print in facts, images, and type. Because in our type, we can convey beauty and messages, and call attention to ugliness and hope in ways that nobody else can. Please choose one headline from the past year that has impacted you the most. Do fact check it from multiple, established, truthful references. Set it. Check it. Print in black and white, or in color. Print ornate, illustrated, or in austere simplicity. Print in all its letterpress glory. Print it 100 times.

I hope to have one hundred presses from the world over participate. Imagine 100 statements printed and on display in a gallery. Five will hang in gallery spaces. The remaining 95 will be boxed. Some of the boxed sets will be sold to cover the costs of the binding, exhibitions, shipping etc. The physical sets will also be submitted to libraries and collections as a historical and artist document from the past year.

If you choose to participate I thank you in advance. It should be said that I do not stand to profit from this exhibit. It will be tremendous amount of work to make it a success. My hope is that we can make an impression with print. Recharge the words before we fall into slumber and never accept this as the new normal. For some I hope that the process will provide a catharsis. For other perhaps it will bring about new ideas for change.

For further information about this project email Sara at:

For further information about any of the  projects published on this website or to discuss a commission or prospective project in detail contact Neat –

Telephone: 01823 401 302 or email:




















Author: Carl Middleton

Independent design professional - specialising in graphic design, typography, corporate identity, communication and marketing.

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