Summer 2005

Photo-strip odyssey on fine paper

No Idea

By Peter & Paul. Published by Robert Horne Group. Free of charge from www.roberthorne.co.uk

Paper manufacturers are well aware that one of the best ways to sell their products is to show those products in use. And so there is a tradition of manufacturers indulging designers to draw attention to their goods. Eye magazine is no exception and glorious papers of one kind or another are regularly bound between its covers. Indeed, I know of several admirers of this journal whose first reaction on the arrival of a new issue is not to pore over the textual content, but to stroke, fondle and sniff the papers on which these words are printed.

Few magazines provoke a similarly sensual reaction. Tactile fetishism of this kind may be a niche preoccupation. However, Sheffield design duo Peter and Paul have teamed up with the Robert Horne Group, one of the UK’s leading fine paper manufacturers, to showcase a range of the company’s wares while relating the behind-the-scenes story of how the project came to be. The resultant book documents the travails of our intrepid graphic designers in photo-story form, from their initial meeting with the client and printer to a consolation feeding with Peter’s parents: ‘You spend hours moving letters about, does anyone even notice?’ ‘Other designers notice.’

This photo-strip odyssey is punctuated by anxieties over juggling creative freedom and cash-flow constraints, and by numerous tangents involving other clients competing for attention. One such diversion depicts the ideological indecisiveness of Arts Council committees and the ease with which strong ideas can arbitrarily be undone: ‘I really like this typeface, but can I put it with these pictures? The gallery is for the general public and therefore we’ll leave the decision up to them. We have a number of testing groups already arranged . . .’

The unfolding narrative illustrates the everyday dilemmas of commercial design, while underlining how a very simple brief can have complicated consequences. A number of incidental gags pepper the proceedings (a tower of design books includes Top 100 Mobile Discos and Helvetica Simplified). However, the centrepiece diversion takes the form of a suitably heated exchange with a brand development consultant from Bright Shiny Thing, whose favoured buzzwords include ‘emotional equity’, ‘spiritual homesteads’ and ‘loveshare™’.

As a diary of the creative process, No Idea should resonate with anyone who’s had to deal with contradictory briefs or found insight in unlikely quarters. It should also tease a knowing smile from those who understand the thrill of chunky marker pens.

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