design dialogue

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December 2018

CIRCLE + SQUARE + TRIANGLE – Observations on brand identity

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 have impacted 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 letterforms, 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 – another example includes:


Mous have developed a protective case for mobile telephones.


  • James Beighton / Annie O’Donnell / Christian Wolsdorff / Godrey Worsdale: Bauhaus 1919-1933 – Mima – 2007
  • Gyorgy Kepes: Module – Symmentry – Proportion – Studio Vista – 1966
  • Gyorgy Kepes: The Man-made Object – Studio Vista – 1966
  • Willi Kuntz: Typography: Macro + Micro Aesthetics – Niggi – 2000
  • Willi Kuntz: Typography: Formation + Transformation – Niggi – 2003
  • Kurt Rowland: A History of the Modern Movement – Van Nostrand Reinhold Co – 1973

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November 2018

DESIGN CULTURE – Observations on the creative process.

“Every human being is a designer. Many also earn their living by design – in every field that warrants pause, and careful consideration, between the conceiving of an action and the fashioning of means to carry it out, and an estimation of its effects”.

Norman Potter – What is a Designer: things . places . messages

From my perspective Research is one of the most important stages of any creative project. It provides a knowledge foundation to inform the shape and form of any creative solution

  • it helps establish where a product, service, space or event wishes to locate itself – within an existing, emerging or brand new market
  • it qualifies the shape, form, material and platform for a design solution – and defines who the target audience is – and (importantly for commercial value) what and where the competition is.

The development stage affords designers a platform to experiment and test a variety of options – material, scale, process, form, interface etc. At this stage no idea, process or material should be discounted.

It is important to include clients within the design process – they inform the initial research stage, attend and inform any review process and play a large role in design selection. At the end of an initial review a set of design proposals are qualified and shortlisted.

Shortlisted designs are thereafter developed in further detail – worked into real situations to augment their value, functionality and integrity – a further selection process is carried out to qualify which single proposal fits the client’s needs best – the work is intensely reviewed until a single valid option is established.

The final design proposal is artworked in readiness for production. The client will sign off each element prior to it being sent to print, manufacture or being uploaded to a web server. Proof correcting, checking and amending will be factored into any time schedule.

After the project is completed a review meeting will take place to discuss the whole process. All parties are bought together to monitor the impact of the design work. This helps me to inform the creative process and for our clients to review the effectiveness of their commission.


  • Gyorgy Kepes – Education of Vision – George Brazillier Inc – 1965
  • Norman Potter – What is a designer: things . places . messages – Studio Vista – 1969
  • Ed Jan van Toorn: Design Beyond Design – critical reflection and the practice of visual communication – Jan van Eyck Akademie Editions – 1998
  • Ed Teal Triggs: Communicating Design (essays in Visual communication) – B.T. Batsford Ltd – 1995

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June 2019

LOST IN SPACE – Observations on signage.

When commissioning any signage there is a definitive need for clear, readable, and aesthetically considered design.

Keep it simple – effective signage quickly and clearly displays a message using as few words as possible – because of the amount of time viewers have to decipher messages. Motorists have only seconds to decipher a sign, making a three to five word message ideal – even the use of a pictogram or icon in this instance is valid.

Spend some time determining the message you want to convey and keep the environment and audience in mind when creating your signage.

Don’t be frightened by white space – the blank area situating text and images (white space) is as important as the selection and placement of content – thirty to forty percent of white space is best. An overabundance of text and graphics can overwhelm viewers.

If you have a lot of information to impart save it for a press release – ‘too much information’ will have a massively negative impact on effective sign design.

Choose clearly readable typefaces – legibility is key – the purpose of a sign is the immediacy of the information composed within it – decoration will impact on reading time and detract from the message.

The human eye much more easily deciphers block letters and proper capitalization. Opt for clear, straight typefaces that are easily readable, using bold letters or slightly larger text or contrasting colour for emphasis.

Make colour work for you – white text is very difficult to read – black, dark blue, or red text on a background of yellow or white is the most effective and readable combinations. Consider the cultural relationship of colours to people, objects and rituals.

“Colour has taken on an importance in consumer behaviour that has become essential and indispensable for the design of objects”.

Jean-Philippe Lenclos – interview in Supergraphics (detailed below).

Select your images carefully – make sure the images and icons you choose are not only large enough to be easily discerned, but that they have a clear, immediate connection to your type of business, event or product. Ensure that resolution and scale are correct, the image itself is appropriate for the intended audience (as well as incidental readers), and remember what may be fine to broadcast to one culture or age group, will not be for others.

Once installed, signage becomes part of the physical fabric of a neighbourhood, space or event. London’s underground signage is an interesting example of this. It has evolved beyond its initial role as a navigation aid to help signify London itself. The typeface and signage originally designed by Edward Johnson have become part of the visual brand of London – tourists juxtapose it with red Routemaster buses and black taxi cabs – resonating heritage, and situating an experience only afforded in the UK’s capital.

Consider what role your signage will evolve into and what value it could bring beyond its initial status.


  • Tony Brook / Adrian Shaughnessy – Supergraphics (transforming space: graphic design for walls, buildings and spaces) – Unit Editions – 2012
  • Eric Delderfield: British Inn Signs – David & Charles Ltd – 1966
  • David Dernie: Exhibition Design – Laurence King – 2007
  • William Gardner: Alphabets at Work – A&C Black – 1982
  • Nicolete Gray: Lettering on Buildings – The Architectural Press – 1960
  • Margaret Hall: On Display – Lund Humphries – 1987
  • Jock Kinneir: Words and Buildings (the art and practice of public lettering) – Architectural Press – 1980
  • James Sutton: Signs in Action – Studio Vista – 1965
  • Alan Powers: Shop Fronts Chatto & Windus Ltd – 1989

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© Carl Middleton – 2019

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