Author Archive: Rob Alderson

Ra

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

ra@itsnicethat.com@RobAlderson

2032 articles
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    It’s been eight years since the London Design Museum last redesigned its website, but last week one of the design-world’s most enduring riddles – why does one of the world’s leading design bodies have such an anachronistic web presence? – was resolved. Dutch consultancy Fabrique worked with q42 developers to create a new site with pared-back navigation, new type treatments and a much-needed elevation of big, beautiful imagery to the level it deserves.

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    Matthew Frost’s Fashion Film featuring Lizzy Caplan remains one of the finest spoofs I have ever posted on the site, and it’s interesting that it was that parody that led Kirsten Dunst to this short. Commissioned by Vs. Magazine for their latest cover shoot with the Spiderman star, it’s an excruciating look at celebrity culture through the prism of a very individual encounter.

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    The term athlete is actually a vague catch-all word that encompasses a great variety of body types, depending on the specialist’s chosen discipline. This new project from photographer Paul Calver and art director Gem Fletcher celebrates what the pair call “the perfectly imperfect form of an athlete’s body” by focusing on a boxer, a martial artist, a runner, a bodybuilder and a sumo wrestler.

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    The mass Scandinavian cultural crush which saw us all become obsessed with the food, TV shows and chunky knitwear of our northern cousins seems to have abated somewhat but that won’t stop Lundgren + Lindqvist.

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    Anna Burns is a set designer with a taste for the ambitious. Who could forget her work with Thomas Brown where they created B-Movie inspired installations out of flammable umbrellas? For her latest work Anna has collaborated with Michael Bodiam on a series inspired by nuclear catastrophe and our contradictory attitudes towards it – apocalyptic fear on the one hand and weird fascination on the other.

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    NACHTDIGITAL was once described as Germany’s “best kept festival secret” but now with a cult following that snaps up its entire ticket allocation in minutes, maybe organisers can be a little more creative with the visuals they commission.

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    Like police officers getting younger, feeling estranged from Radio 1 is a sure sign that you’re getting on a bit. But even I – from the rarefied perch of my early 30s – can appreciate the brilliance of this promo for the station’s Even More Music Month. They had the good sense to commission animation duo Nicos Livesey and Tom Bunker, who created 30 seconds of trippy music-themed madness complete with gurning lollipops, bopping pineapples and an infernal rock-band playing on a spooling tongue. It’s fun, it looks great and it gets its message across in a half-minute energy burst, even if disappearing into Fearne Cotton’s mouth is slightly terrifying.

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    Voters in Scotland are today deciding whether to swap 300 years of union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the nationalist dream of an independent country. The referendum is being held exactly 700 years after the Battle of Bannockburn, where Robert The Bruce defeated the English army of Edward II and every year a re-enactment is held to bring this major historical landmark back to life.

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    There’s something about the painstaking perfectionism of type design that doesn’t scream fun and frolics, but Commercial Type’s new webfont showcase is ready to prove me wrong. The New York and London based type studio run by Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes is widely-regarded as one of the best around, but the pair have struggled sometimes to communicate the personality of their fonts. Enter the Commercial Type Showcase which they built with Wael Morcos to show off the lighter side of 16 of their creations by way of 16 microsites, ranging from poetry and poster generators to a train schedule board and even a digital therapist.

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    We’ve already sung the praises of the V&A’s flagship London Design Festival project – Barber Osgerby’s extraordinary reflective installation in the Raphael Cartoons Gallery – but there are some other gems on offer at the spiritual home of the festival.

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    Paul Gale is a comedy filmmaker whose various online offerings have racked up millions of YouTube hits, but his most recent parody is rocketing him onto a whole new level. Why Starbucks Spells Your Name Wrong takes the simple premise of the misspelling of customers’ names on their coffee cups – and the moaning Tweets and Instagrams of “hilariously” egregious examples – and offers a very simple explanation. The staff, it appears, “are f***ing with you.”

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    I have no idea who Mr G.G.Hines is. And yet I am standing surrounded by junk staring at his black leather passport holder. I am transfixed by it; lost in reveries about who he was, where he travelled to and what his handwriting – neat, confident but not fussy – says about him. I am also wondering how his passport came to be here, and the answer to that begins with Dan Tobin Smith.

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    Like their counterparts over at Unit Editions, the Viction:ary team has an unerring eye for putting together graphic design books that are a cut above the competition. This stems from their ability to select a theme that is relevant and interesting and (crucially) identify the right creatives to showcase in exploring that subject.

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    Three years ago at the London Design Festival, the Bouroullec Brothers transformed the Raphael Cartoons gallery at the V&A by installing a huge textile-covered platform down the centre of the vast room. It became a playful, very human space in the heart of one of London’s most august institutions, and remains one of the most talked-about festival projects of recent years.

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    When showing off a new typeface, most designers opt for the go-to panagram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” On one of the promotional posters for his new font Hardy, Wade Jeffree has plumped for “It’s too easy being a c**t.” In other words, this is a typeface with attitude.

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    “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” is a line famously attributed to Picasso. There is some disagreement about whether the big man did utter these words, but it has endured as a truism; influence and inspiration flowing from one artist to another play a major part in the development of art history.

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    Just before Christmas I like to go through the bumper two week issue of The Radio Times and circle (neatly!) the things I wish to watch over the festive period. This annual ritual engenders mixed feelings; excitement and anticipation on the one hand and an almost palpable anxiety of deciding what, unavoidably, I am going to have to miss. I have a similar feeling as London Design Festival rolls around every autumn. There is so much going on that it’s very easy to spread yourself too thinly, so with that in mind here’s ten things I am looking forward to at this year’s LDF. I make no apologies for including some pretty obvious selections, as well as hopefully a couple of more individual choices.

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    It seems fitting that the Design Museum’s Designers In Residence show has opened just days before London Design Festival kicks off. LDF is often derided – unfairly but loudly – as a celebration of design vacuousness, of shinier shelves and more ergonomic chairs. This year’s DiR exhibition is a celebration of design’s power, an exploration of how it can improve some of society’s fundamental building blocks – housing, play, money and the law.

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    As newspapers change, so the meaning, placement and purpose of their mastheads change too. This archive of Indian newspaper nameplates is therefore a celebration of the beauty and communicative skill that goes into them, and a snapshot of the contemporary news media in the sub-continent – see how the odd editorial email address crops up alongside some pretty historic type treatments. The collection has been compiled by Pooja Saxena, a Bangalore-based type designer who previously worked in Apple’s font team and studied at Reading University’s world-leading Type Design and Graphic Communication school.

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    The debate over so-called “ruin porn” has raged for several years now, exploring the cultural and ethical ramifications of turning the decrepit and dilapidated into art. But if anyone could breathe new life into this kind of project, it’s Nadav Kander. The photographer’s new show Dust opens in London today, and takes as its epigraph the T.S Eliot line: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

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    Last night Apple launched the iPhone 6, the iWatch and Apple Pay amid more fawning than a Tumnus family gathering. We may have reached peak mania around Apple’s launches, but then I’m sure I thought that last time. Because of the tech giant’s insane success, many have studied the (winning) formula by which Apple seem to conduct their public pronouncements, and this in turn has led to many spoofs skewering the Apple approach. IKEA were the latest to produce a spoof Appple ad – coincidentally released just days before yesterday’s press conference – but as you’ll see below they certainly weren’t the first to go down that route. My money’s on them not being the last either…

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    Here at It’s Nice That we’re very aware of how often we cover certain creatives on the site, and we constantly make time to search out talented practitioners we don’t know as well as feting the latest work of those we do.

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    Some cracking work here from our friends at Studio Makgill with this beautiful Specials Applied book for our other pals at G . F Smith. The paper company has an unerring knack of working with some of the best design studios around – whether that’s Hamish and his team or the ongoing partnership with Made Thought – and the quality of their promotional material is testament to the importance of creative, collaborative working relationships. This book showcases G . F Smith’s more unusual stocks and through a clever use of cut-outs we’re taken on a journey through a selection of interesting samples.

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    We’ve long maintained that to really get to know how a creative’s mind works, it’s best to explore their personal work, which often tells you much more than their professional portfolio. Another good example of this comes from London-based identity designer Iancu Barbarasa, who works under the name Iancul, and his terrific new Drawriting project, which “turns thoughts and their letters into visual puzzles.”

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    In March 2011 our pals over at Creative Review ran a special logo issue of the magazine, which celebrated 20 logos whittled down from designers’ favourites, readers’ suggestions and expert industry opinion. Now that issue has been turned into a handsome and useful book by Creative Review’s deputy editor Mark Sinclair called TM: The Untold Stories Behind 29 Classic Logos. The in-depth case studies range from Saul Bass’ Bell System to Sir Peter Scott’s WWF panda, via the London Underground, Tate, Penguin, British Rail and Pirelli.

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    Pentagram partner Paula Scher first designed a poster for New York’s Public Theater back in the mid-1990s, then in 2008 she refreshed the institution’s whole identity. Now, 20 years after her initial work for the theatre, Paula has worked with Public’s senior graphic designer Kirstin Huber on the visuals for the 2014/15 season.

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    The thriving independent publishing sector is a constant fillip in the well-worn discussion over the future of print, but one new title is more direct than most in articulating its belief in a bright future for tangible reading material. Over recent months we watched with interest as Marcroy Smith of People of Print, announced, crowd-funded and launched Print Isn’t Dead and the response has been extremely positive. Conceived as “a showcase of outstanding illustration and design work demonstrating and pushing the boundaries of print in all forms” the Kickstarter campaign pulled in nearly £7,000 from an initial target of £4,520. This is, as you’d expect, a print lover’s dream, taking unashamedly “geekish delight in printing equipment” as MagCulture’s Jeremy Leslie put it.

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    There’s a huge red banner hanging across one wall of the V&A’s Disobedient Objects exhibition, which reads (in Russian): “You cannot imagine what we are capable of.” It’s a powerful line and sums up nicely the show as a whole, which examines “the role of objects in movements for social change.” The artefacts range from those that have played very direct roles in various movements – shields, posters, maps of protest camps and contraptions to help handcuff demonstrators together – to less obvious but quietly subversive tools like puppets or a game in which players must complete distasteful tasks in a bid to gather the materials to make a smartphone (swiftly withdrawn from the app store).

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    To anyone interested in graphic design it’s no great revelation that Swiss duo Ilg/Trüb produce great work. But even by the pair’s own high standards, this catalogue for artist Shezad Dawood’s first ever solo show at The Parasol Unit in London is a real winner. Shezad works “across film, painting and sculpture to juxtapose discrete systems of image, language, site and historical narrative” and so neither he, nor this exhibition are immediately easy to engage with. And yet the catalogue draws me in from the off with its intriguing cover, while the big, confident use of imagery – there are 90 full colour photographs – seems to open up Shezad’s practice in front of my very eyes. The book has a personality and a sense of playfulness that doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with the contemporary art world.

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    Imagine turning up to work in the morning, checking your schedule and realising that the vast majority of your time is going to be spent creating a zombie horse. That’s what the team at Montreal-based Rodeo FX did for Series Four of Game of Thrones, along with creating the slave city of Meereen, the Unsullied Army, a sequence with the White Walkers and most memorably the final (KIND OF SPOILER ALERT!) battle between Stannis’ army and the wildlings.

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    I have heard it said that the New York graphic design scene is more splintered and less cohesive than its London counterpart, but the Image of The Studio initiative we covered last year was a fascinating way of bringing together more than 75 NYC studios to compare and contrast the way they each work. It also became a great resource to discover designers we didn’t know that much about, and with each studio commissioned to create something original that reflected their philosophy and aesthetic, it provided a great way into the New York scene.

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    Australian artist Kit Webster is has long been fascinated with the emotional and psychological tricks he can play through the manipulation of sound and light. His new piece Hypercube is a concentric cubic sculpture with a 120-metre LED set-up that can be controlled using specially-created software. The pre-recorded cycles allow Kit to control the viewer’s experience, speeding the cube up to a frenzy and breaking the tension with meditative moments of calm.

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    Here’s one of those projects that turns out to be way more interesting than it originally sounds, and it comes courtesy of San Francisco studio T2D (Tomorrow Today). Metragramme takes 32 of your Instagram pictures and combines them into a single image created via pixel-comparisons across the set. The result is therefore a kind of average Instagram picture, and although on first glance many of them look similar; when you explore each a little further you tease out intriguing details, as well as drawing broader conclusions about form and colour palette. We’ve included a few examples below but this is probably one of those tools you;re going to want to try out for yourself – you can visit the site here.

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    I always think that creating the identity for a design conference is one of the most thankless commissions around – all those attendees ready, willing and able to offer informed and immediate feedback. So when we see it done well it only seems to right to give credit where it’s due, and Build did a fine job for this year’s TypeCon gathering.

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    It was only last month that Stefan Sagmeister called out the creative industries’ infatuation with the idea of storytelling as “bullshit.” But as a prevalent presence in many people’s work, we felt it was the perfect theme for last night’s Nicer Tuesdays in partnership with Park Communications.

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    In the introduction to his exceptional new Erik Spiekermann monograph, Johannes Erler sums up “Spiekermann in two sentences” by way of this quotation: “I’m totally chaotic. I’m so untogether, my left leg doesn’t even know what my right leg is doing. I need order. I need systems. I don’t really do anything without a design grid.”

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    South African photographer Dillon Marsh has long been drawn to themes that touch on environmentalism and our relationship with the world around us, and in recent years these interests have become more pronounced.

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    Of all the design disciplines, typography is almost certainly the least sexy. But Dan Rhatigan is one of the people who is able to talk about type in an engaging, and very human way. Earlier this year the Monotype type director worked with Grey London on Ryman Eco, described as “the world’s most beautiful sustainable font,” as it uses 33% less ink than the likes of Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia and Verdana.

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    Love it or loathe it, mobile phone photography is entrenched in our modern media culture. But it’s facile to lump this ever-growing phenomenon under a single umbrella, encompassing as it does everything from hipsters’ obsession with Instagramming their burgers to the vital role of smartphone-wielding citizen journalists in conflicts around the world. In recognition of the increasing importance of mobile phone photography and the numerous narratives intertwined with it, the British Journal of Photography has launched fltr, which bills itself as “the only magazine dedicated to mobile photographers.”

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    In the last couple of weeks the professional football season has returned in all its overhyped glory, but for thousands of amateurs around the UK it’s the start of the Sunday League season that really matters.