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Review of the Year 2018: Top 25 Features

We’re not sure about you, but there’s something about this time of year that makes everyone here at It’s Nice That want to curl up on the sofa with a decent long read. Handy, then, isn’t it, that we’ve curated this bumper batch of the best features we’ve published on the site in 2018? They’re practically crying out to be consumed with a fistful of Pringles and an ill-advised second glass of snowball.

  • List Features / Photography Paris Syndrome: photographer Francois Prost explores a replica city in China

    “I will always remember the first time I went to Venice,” photographer François Prost remembers. “I was 23. I arrived there by train on my own, and as soon as I got out of the train station, I had this strange feeling of not knowing if what I saw was real or not. The same thing happened when I went to Rome, to India and to New York. Those places are such full of history, references and fantasy that when you go there for real, it kind of mess up things in your brain: you’re suddenly confronting the reality of the images you have seen. I later learned that this was called Stendhal Syndrome, and that it was a phenomenon happening a lot to Japanese tourists coming to Paris or Florence.”

    Bryony Stone
  • Scarfolk-graphicdesign-itsnicethat-14list Features / Graphic Design A chat with the Orwellian mastermind in charge of the UK town known as Scarfolk

    Scarfolk is a quaint town in the north west of England. At first glance it appears perfectly ordinary. Neighbours chat to each other over hedges while children play in the quiet, suburban streets. Yet this provincial place has received a lot of media attention over the past five years. Rumours have surfaced claiming that the town has not progressed since 1979 and the local council’s poster production points to a community that is stuck in the 1970s. It’s Nice That decided to find out more about the local society and its notorious designs.

    Daphne Milner
  • Alexprager-compulsion-photography-itsnicethat-01 Features / Photography How Alex Prager made the world stop and stare

    There are numerous reasons why photographer Alex Prager has gained such success and adoration, but one standout factor is her ability to make viewers see the world for its busy but dressed-up glory. She does so by setting a scene, something similar to daily life but eerily unfamiliar. The photographer creates sets to do this, but it’s a set you’d unknowingly walk past, a bus stop or a cinema crowd cast full of friends, family and the famous. It’s this mix of the real and the staged that’s seen curators at the world’s largest galleries fall for Alex, alongside the rest of us. You can’t help but stop and stare at an image by Alex Prager.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Pentagram-harrypearce-johnlewispartnership-johnlewis-graphicdesign-itsnicethat-list Features / Graphic Design “Authentic brands really deserve sensitivity”: Pentagram’s Harry Pearce talks through his rebrand of the John Lewis Partnership

    In 1985, before Dominic Lippa and Harry Pearce were Pentagram partners and even before they shared their studio Lippa Pearce, the pair worked on designing the own brand packaging for Waitrose. Today, 33 years later, Pentagram is releasing Harry’s redesigned identities of Waitrose, John Lewis and the John Lewis Partnership, which encompasses them both. It’s a rebrand that’s complex, sensitive and authentic; it’s the result of three years of detailed design thinking.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Its-nice-that-dia-studio-list-img-724x474 Features / Graphic Design “Go, go, go”: how DIA messed with design theory, only to improve it

    Moving. This one word sums up everything New York-based design studio DIA embodies. Movement is in the neoteric, kinetic identity systems it creates and the processes it uses to construct them. Moving forward is in the ethos that drives its leaders Mitch Paone and Meg Donohoe to redefine with graphic design is. DIA is always moving and, in turn, its solidified itself as the master of typography in flux. It’s a studio which messes with design theory only to improve it, leaving the rest of us scrambling to catch up. Despite a somewhat-earnest façade, DIA is a studio built upon the interpersonal relationships it harbours, particularly between Mitch, founder and creative director, and Meg, managing partner. “We are on the same page with just about everything,” Mitch explains, “Same taste in design, art, food, architecture, vacations.” This “universal compatibility,” as he describes it, feeds through everything they do, in or outside of work, forming the basis of their collaboration. “Most importantly,” he continues, “there is a balance of our mindsets. Meg steers the ship with a long-term vision, whereas I am very much immersed in immediate creative tasks.”

    Ruby Boddington
  • Anne_lund_smiling_sun_list Features / International Women's Day “I'm not a designer – I was just an activist”: how The Smiling Sun became one of history's most iconic logos

    The Smiling Sun is well known across the world as the face of the anti-nuclear power movement. Worn as badges, stuck on lampposts or held aloft as flags its gleeful grin has become synonymous with the fight for a world powered by renewable energy. Despite its widespread popularity, the logo’s designer has remained largely aloof. It’s Nice That managed to track down The Smiling Sun’s creator, Anne Lund – now a university lecturer – to find out more about how it came to be and how she feels looking back on it, four decades later.

    Ruby Boddington
  • Apartamento-10years-publication-itsnicethat-list Features / Publication Apartamento at ten: a decade of celebrating the everyday home

    Interiors magazine Apartamento has made a name for itself by documenting and celebrating the everyday charm of the humble home. Each issue is welcoming and friendly, and in turn, risk isn’t necessarily something you would associate with the publication. Yet taking a risk is what launched and contributed to the biannual’s global success. Ten years on, we look back at the moment three 20-something guys naively ventured into the world of publications, and find the risk has definitely paid off.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Sagmeisterandwalsh-thomashedger-itsnicethat-2list Features / Graphic Design Beauty through the eyes of Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh

    Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh have been thinking about beauty. This might seem unsurprising, as both are designers who occupy the upper echelons of the design hierarchy, and aesthetics, you’d imagine, would be an ongoing concern. “One part of what we are doing is aiming to eradicate the tired notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Stefan with a laugh. “Because it’s not.” I’m sat at the control centre of the Stefan and Jessica show, an office just off Broadway in Manhattan. Outside the meeting room where we are sat, a small team is working away diligently.

    Owen Pritchard
  • Anna-ginsburg_animation_itsnicethat_list Features / International Women's Day Why is there a lack of women in animation, and what can we do about it?

    Where are all the women? It’s a question that comes up time and time again in conversation with animators and animation studios alike. According to advocacy group Women in Animation, 60% of animation students in the US and Europe are women, but the drop off rate as they move into industry is staggering, with only 20%–40% of professional roles held by women. But why exactly is there a lack of females in animation, and more constructively, what is the industry doing about it? To find out, we spoke to a variety of important voices in the sector, from educators and leading animation studios to female animators themselves (they do exist) about their experiences, and what actions are being taken to redress the balance.

    Jenny Brewer
  • Ibm-coporate-identity-its-nice-that-list Features / Publication Design to improve the general quality of life: exploring Paul Rand's IBM Graphic Standards Manual

    In a televised interview with Paul Rand in 1991 the designer was asked, “What does the world need with graphic design, what does it do for us? To the average person it may seem a kind of… fussy little concern with moving words around, pictures around, what good does it do us?” Paul responds that he’s been thinking about this for many years: “Up to rather recently, I sort of concluded that we were not very important. Or you can put it another way – there used to be a guy in my agency days, he would say, ‘how is it possible to make so much and do so little?’”

    Lucy Bourton
  • Astridstavro-pentagram-graphicdesign-itsnicethat-list Features / Graphic Design An interview with Pentagram's latest partner, Astrid Stavro

    In 1992, the year of Pentagram’s 20th anniversary, founding partner Colin Forbes wrote a piece detailing the design firm’s purposefully unique structure. The piece noted how it’s common for design firms to have one or two partners at its helm, but Pentagram presented a way of doing things differently. The founders purposefully set themselves the biggest challenge: “to run what we believe is an excellent design-driven firm into a second generation,” Forbes wrote.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Listimage2 Features / Art Sound and vision: Parquet Courts' A. Savage on life as an artist and musician

    A. Savage is an artist who is always walking the ledge between two creative worlds. The first is a musical one, where he throttles through songs playing in Parquet Courts. But the second is a slower paced painting career, where his enviable talent for building a narrative shifts from songwriting onto canvas. While he has no plans to settle in either camp permanently, his painting studio is “wonderful” the artist tells It’s Nice That. “It’s my favourite place in the world.”

    Lucy Bourton
  • 2001-a-space-odyssesy-film-itsnicethat-list Features / Film “Something bold, something pure” – the 50-year long legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey

    When 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered on 10 May 1968 – 50 years ago today – it somehow captured the imagination of its viewers: an audience who was yet to experience footage of the moon landing over a year later. Packed full of lengthy sequences and free from dialogue or even sound, its imagery, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is tranquil to the point of being static at times. This combined with its understandably puzzling ending meant the film received mixed reviews from critics upon its release. Despite this, it quickly garnered a ferocious cult following and became the highest grossing film of that year: the only Kubrick motion picture to hold this status.

    Ruby Boddington
  • Listimage Features / Miscellaneous How embracing vulnerability can power innovation, creativity and change

    From Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings illustrating his internal rage to Adele’s breakup album 21, time and again people connect with work that reveals something about an artist’s soul. But most of us spend our lives trying to avoid being this exposed, thanks to a pervasive belief that vulnerability equals weakness. According to research professor and author Brené Brown, fear of shame inhibits creativity, keeping us hiding in case we are not worthy or good enough. Through four books, including the number one New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, and one of the top five most-watched TED talks on YouTube, the University of Houston professor has helped millions be more open about their vulnerability. To find out more about the role vulnerability plays in the creative process and how we can face our fears of being fully seen, we take a closer look at Brené’s research and speak to a variety of daringly vulnerable artists.

    Kate Hollowood
  • Disneyland-taschen-publication-itsnicethat-list Features / Publication Under Construction: A look inside Walt Disney's Disneyland

    In the summer of 1951, TV personality Art Linkletter took a trip to Copenhagen with Walt Disney. Walking around the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, he spots Walt, writing. “I asked him what he was doing, and he replied, ‘I’m just making notes about something that I’ve always dreamed of – a great, great playground…’”

    Marianne Hanoun
  • Madethought-graphicdesign-itsnicethat-list Features / Graphic Design Combining thoughtful design and big business: an interview with Made Thought

    For Ben Parker and Paul Austin, the founders of London-based design agency Made Thought, a brand should consider its identity as the “current coat you’re putting on”. In turn, Made Thought’s process of creating an identity is akin to designing a tailored winter coat.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Keith_haring_60th_birthday_celebration_art_itsnicethat Features / Art Celebrating the life, work and enduring legacy of Keith Haring on his 60th birthday

    Keith Haring’s life, and New York’s Downtown Scene, and perhaps culture as a whole changed in 1980 when Andy Warhol and the art dealer Tony Shafrazi strolled into the basement of Club 57, which neither had ever stepped foot into before, and which Haring had filled with hundreds of drawings in gold and silver magic marker. It was the night of his opening. “We were all buzzing,” recalls Kim Hastreiter, who would soon afterwards found Paper magazine, “‘UH OH,’ ‘What are THEY doing here?’ We were suspicious and in a sense excited and sad at the same time – because that night it felt like our amazing secret world Downtown was being invaded and discovered and wouldn’t be the same again.” In many ways she was right. But first of all, Haring would be catapulted into the limelight.Warhol invited him to his Factory for lunch and they soon became good friends; Haring kept Warhol up to date with 80s youth culture, and Warhol in turn introduced him to the glittering world of celebrity and success. In 1982, Haring had his breakthrough solo show at Tony Shafrazi’s illustrious gallery on Mercer Street. The following year, he collaborated with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren on their autumn/winter 1983 Witches collection, and Madonna wearing a leather jacket he hand-painted to perform Like a Virgin on Top of the Pops. In 1985, he drew graffiti all over Grace Jones’ naked body for her live shows at Paradise Garage. He was at the heart of both modern art and pop culture, which is exactly where he wanted to be. Had he not passed away of AIDS-related complications in 1990, aged 31, Keith Haring would be celebrating his 60th birthday today – which makes this a good moment to consider his life and his legacy.“I arrived in New York at a time when the most beautiful paintings being shown in the city were on wheels, on trains,” he once said, remembering coming to the city in 1978, “paintings that travelled to you instead of vice versa.” But rather than copying the Wild Style graffiti artists, Haring found a different way of working underground. Noticing one day that unsold advertising spaces on the New York City subway were filled with plain black paper, he ran up the stairs to Times Square, bought some white chalk, ran back underground and began drawing in his trademark language of comic figures and squiggles. Before long, he had made thousands of drawings – up to 40 a day – as he rode the subways across the five boroughs, to and from school, work, clubs, parties and cruising spots. His works would be seen by a colossal number of people every day, and because they were so often replaced, he had to keep coming up with fresh new ideas continually.Haring loved the subway, with all its advertising posters, painted trains and flows of people, and also loved the secret Downtown, the hidden world of metropolitan fucking and clubbing. He loved dancing the night away at now legendary dives like Club 57, Paradise Garage and the Mudd Club, or cruising public bathhouses, or the backrooms of S/M orgy clubs like the Anvil, for the kind of sex that wasn’t so readily available back home in rural Pennsylvania. “He suddenly popped out like a flower, like a seed in that cauldron of energy: New York City,” Timothy Leary once said about Haring, “and he put all his remarkable energy together – the wall, the easel, the canvas, the pigment… it’s a dance!” The city’s nightlife, with all its joie de vivre, its shuddering, intertwined bodies and explosions of colour, was where he found his inspiration but also, in those hardcore early years, before the dangers of AIDs became so well known, and before he became such a prominent advocate of safe sex, that Haring contracted the HIV that would eventually lead to his death. In a classical tragic trajectory, New York is what made Keith Haring and also what killed him, all in the space of just over a decade.His deep love for nightclubs, and for black and Latino culture, and everything around them, was also a huge inspiration for Haring. In that sense, his legacy can be seen in the practices of younger artists like Eddie Peake: who makes bright, graffiti-inspired work, and takes much of his inspiration from gay culture, black culture, club culture and pirate radio culture, and who strips his performers naked and covers them in paint, like Haring and Grace Jones. But of course he’s just one of many artists continuing Haring’s legacy in their own way.

    Dean Kissick
  • Lukeevans-secondnature-photography-itsnicethat-list Features / Photography Luke Evans triumphantly returns with mind blowing project, Second Nature

    A few years ago the name Luke Evans was on everyone’s lips. Creating a body of work which walked back and forth between fine art and photography, everyone wanted to know “just how!?” he made the work he did.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Sharifhamza-youngamericans-photography-itsnicethat-list Features / Photography Sharif Hamza on how he photographed young America's gun culture

    Young Americans by Sharif Hamza, a British photographer living in New York, documents an array of American teenagers who practice firing guns for sport. It’s a series that is equally eye-opening and difficult to look at and, in turn, it divides opinion. “Every step of the way,” he tells It’s Nice That, “there has been an internal conflict.”

    Lucy Bourton
  • Whatsappillustrationgroup-internationalwomen'sday-illustration-itsnicethat-list Features / International Women's Day Malika Favre, Ram Han, Martina Paukova and Miranda Tacchia discuss the illustration industry, over Whatsapp

    Illustration is an incredible skill. It’s the first creative discipline introduced to toddlers and it’s an art form many adults envy. It can make you weep with laughter or provoke deep thoughts. Illustrators quite literally bring to life what words or photographs can’t describe.

    Lucy Bourton
  • Yuri-suzuki-pentagram-partner-itsnicethat-01 Features / Interactive “Even the other partners ask me, ‘How can I categorise you as a designer?’”: Yuri Suzuki joins Pentagram

    Sound, experience and installation designer Yuri Suzuki is set to join Pentagram’s London office as a new partner. The announcement today comes just weeks after it was revealed that Astrid Stavro, the founder of design studio Atlas, was to become the third designer this year to join the partnership. Clearly, Pentagram is in a hurry to bring new blood on-board in order to help shape the future of the world’s largest independently-owned design studio.

    Matt Alagiah
  • Tracy_ma_list_img Feature / Graphic Design Laughing at the world of graphic design with Tracy Ma

    Designer Tracy Ma’s creative career, and life really, has followed an ongoing process of reinvention. It’s an approach those familiar with her work will be able to spot, because she doesn’t tackle the job of a designer – whatever that really means – like any of the caricatures who increasingly populate the industry. It’s Tracy’s wit which allows her to see the often earnest attitude to graphic design as one big joke, even if no one else gets the punchline.

    One of the designer’s first jobs was at Bloomberg Businessweek, where a three-month stint became a five-year job. Between 2011–2016 Tracy worked her way up to deputy creative director, ultimately working on over 200 issues. Throughout her time at the publication her visual output chopped and changed in style, but the sense of humour was consistent; she’s perpetually contextually clever with content. When provided with visuals that were “often scarce or shitty,” she’d utilise the potential of typography as an image. In her current position as visual editor at The New York Times’ style desk, Tracy continues an approach to editorial which puts the reader’s engagement first. In the run-up to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day, her first Times piece saw her design an extensive – and comical – FAQ of “everything you wanted to know” about the royal wedding. Question 27 asks “Would it be at all possible to surf this website without such cutting-edge art direction?”. The answer it displays? No. Obviously.

    Lucy Bourton

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