Uncovering the mystery of Anthony Burrill’s new online archive of design ephemera
“I worked like an archaeologist”: the designer reflects on unearthing years of design clippings for the free site, from tearings from the Yellow Pages to old train tickets.
- Liz Gorny
- 22 July 2022
Visit the site XYZ and you’ll be met with a seemingly never-ending medley of design snippets. The pieces are largely typographic, giving a clue as to the collector behind the archive; always black and white, another clue; and provide no further context as to their individual origins, deepening the mystery. It’s a puzzle easily solved by the site logo, located top left, AB, or for the more keen-eyed, simply the URL: https://anthonyburrill.xyz/. The site does also end, clocking in at 500 pieces, each of which has been personally gathered by the designer – a routine practice that, over the years, became something of an obsession of Anthony Burrill’s.
“Sticking things in sketchbooks is something I’ve always done: when I was a student the main thing I focused on was making beautiful sketchbooks – finding the most esoteric and strange things to amuse and intrigue my fellow students and lecturers,” says Anthony. XYZ is the culmination of this side practice, and has Burrill’s fingerprints all over it. For example, the lack of organisational hierarchy or attribution text. “I like mystery and find it more appealing and intriguing when I have to create a backstory for something rather than knowing the full facts,” he says. Sifting through unidentified collector items is, for him, “about the joy of looking” and the “feel” of long forgotten graphics.
Equally, the tell-tale black and white throughout XYZ has actually been manufactured to match Burrill’s own palette. “My work is primarily black and white, with maybe a little hint of yellow here and there. I think the power of black and white – the way it’s so strong, and the contrast – is just incredible.” Even the very process of archiving screams Burrill; his practice began in a pre-digital era and is still linked to early “rudimentary” experiments with a photocopier, scissors and glue.
The archive is often personal, but highly varied. Some highlight pieces include the wiring diagram of a plug, stamps and trains tickets harking back to Burrill’s Royal College of Art course, and an advertisement for transferring Cinefilm to VHS tape. There is some order to the work though: Using the Filter button on the site – which is designed with Richard Nicholls and built by Neal Fletcher – visitors can browse via categories such as Ampersand, Arrow, Letterform, Stamp, Stencil, Ticket and Woodtype. While it’s all about “odd bits and bobs”, says Anthony, a theme to XYZ could be old production methods.
After spendings “hours obsessively looking through old sketchbooks and boxes of ephemera” to collate XYZ, Burrill hopes to use the now-ordered collection as his own visual resource, but also share it with others. Burrill wants XYZ to act like a “museum”; the site allows users to download pieces for free and follow the designer’s creative journey, all while maybe oiling the gears for another creative project out there.
And the most precious piece in his collection? “That would have to be the autobiographical pieces that are scattered throughout,” says Anthony. “Some of them are more obviously connected with significant events in my life and others have more subtle meanings that maybe only I might pick up on. It’s that bittersweet feeling you get when looking through old photos or diaries that take you back to past moments.”
GalleryAnthony Burrill: XYZ (Copyright © Anthony Burrill, 2022)
Anthony Burrill: XYZ (Copyright © Anthony Burrill, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.