Pastures new

Tomorrow marks my first day as a designer for the wonderful Jellyfish Creative and will no doubt lead to a good few posts in the near future. However, this post is really about pastures old desptie what the title suggests!

I’ve been with Newenglish as a designer for over a year and will be sad to not be joining them again on Monday morning – but onwards and upwards as they say! Anyway, the real reason for this post is to reflect back on the past year at Newenglish and what I’ve learnt. It’s been my first real studio job as before that I was Creative Directing at my own studio, 19 Grams with the ever-talented Mr. Seed and going back further I was freelancing with Innersmile. So, what have I learnt over my time with Newenglish? Well, that’d take a ruddy long time to answer so here are the key things:

Colour work
I think, as a designer, the most important thing I’ve learnt is about colour and being less conventional with my palettes. I always used to use simple spectral palettes, traditional colour pairings or derivations of primary palettes. What Carl and Wendy (the Creative Directors) have an exceptional skill for is creating colour ways which never occur to me and work wonderfully. Wendy’s colour choices for Leicester Learning Services (LLS) which were derived from my simple primary palette are exceptional. The warm grey-purple and ‘sweet’ raspberry pink are brave choices I would have never thought to use but, on seeing them in use, it’s a no-brainer. Similarly, Carl’s cool palette for Pochin (new website coming very soon!) includes some very subtle colours which I would be too scared would be washed out but hold up incredibly well.

I suppose an eye for things like that improves with time and I am infinitely improved in choosing palettes from where I was 18 months ago but there’s always room to grow.

Attention to detail
This is something I’ve always felt I was extremely good at but in a studio environment there’s a new frame of reference. Seeing the intricate detail with which artwork is scrutinised took a while to sink in with me. A couple of minor artwork issues later and I became so aware that what I thought of as ‘good practice’ was way off the mark. So, I now try to triple check everything and get an extra pair of eyes on to make sure there’s no more double spaces, off-by-a-millimeter margins and one-shade-out colours. Again, there’s always room for improvement but I’m better than I’ve ever been at that now and I’ll only get better!

Organisation and systems
Now this IS something I’ve always been good at. I daresay that if you asked any of my former Newenglish colleagues what was my most defining habit and characteristic it would indefinitely be incessant list making and organisation. So what did I learn? Well, that’s simple…I learnt just how valuable a trait that can be. My first and most-prominent account with Newenglish all centred around rolling out a brand across a huge raft of literature, web assets and even interior & exterior signage. My first instinct was to get a spreadsheet drawn up with the assets needed, pieces to be created and what stage they were at. I shared this with the directors, project manager and the client as second nature thinking ‘that’s what anyone would do’. Apparently though, my freakish need to be organised is not as common as I’d thought and makes me quite handy for handling logistically complex projects – which was a nice discovery.

Workspace aesthetic
This is probably the thing I will miss most about Newenglish (except my colleagues and Barker the studio dog of course!). The huge, light, airy converted chapel that the studio inhabits is gorgeous in itself but the colours on the walls, the books on the book cases, heck even the bookcases themselves are all gorgeous. Once I got over the inevitable clutter of papers and samples of a buzzing workplace that obscure all the finely chosen furniture and settled in it was so apparent and refreshing that Carl and Wendy have tried so hard to make a lovely environment for both them and the team to work in. I’d be very lucky to work somewhere even half that nice again.

Incidentally, the blurry image above is a nicely framed photo which floats loosely atop a pole on wheels in the studio. ‘Why?’ you might ask, as I and everyone before me has. It’s to block the light from your eyes as it moves through the brilliant rooftop skylight while still looking oddly cool – as you do.

People skills
The studio is beautiful but it’s the people who make it what it is and I have been fortunate to work with some lovely co-workers. I shan’t be too specific but suffice it to say that the banter flowed freely and everyone was a great laugh when needed and an absolute asset when required. I hope they all continue to be as great at what they do as they have been.

So that’s the last year or so of my life summed up. How about that!

TL;DR – Learnt a lot, am a better designer for it and will miss the studio and the people very much…

Les Revenants

This week my trusty turntable is spinning Mogwai‘s Les Revenants. In the traditional sense of the phrase, this LP is an OST for French TV drama ‘Les Revenats‘ (or ‘The Returned’ if you’re watching the subtitled version on 4 as we were). However, Stuart Braithwaite in interview with Edith Bowman explained how they had produced and mastered the album as a stand-alone piece of music. Interestingly then, as an avid music junkie and someone who had followed the series on television before listening to the album, the album flows beautifully instead of flitting from intense instrumentals to soothing ambient pieces like one expects from most OSTs.

Mogwai are a five-piece post-rock group heralding from Glasgow. A former housemate of mine was a borderline super fan of theirs so I had heard a fair amount of their work before. I’d even usedone or two tracks to set a motion graphics project to. Their back catalogue is extremely interesting, showing a stark transition from gritty, distorted post-hardcore to an almost Eno-esque ambience. Seemingly, the band have unconsciously drifted into a wonderful niché in soundtracks after having produced music for 2006’s ‘Zidane: aA21st Century Portrait’ a French documentary about Football legend Zinedine Zidane.

The Returned is an etherial and moody drama set in a small alpine town where the dead begin to rise. This may sound like flogging a dead horse as it’s exceptionally rare to find any true originality in zombie flicks these days. Even AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ and it’s basis in Robert Kirkman’s comic series (which is currently adorning my bookshelf) rarely introduces new ideas, perspectives or angles. The Returned plays on the dichotomy of the living and the dead within the returned characters. A fresh angle which is not hugely dissimilar to BBC Three’s In The Flesh.

The soundtrack is an atmospheric, almost ambient affair with a real Mogwai hallmark to it. Time singatures vary, strings descend into crackling guitar and moods shift fluidly from track to track. The album reminds you of the moods within the show without echoing them exactly. It acheives exactly what they wished it to in that it holds it’s own as a record. Had I not seen the program I am near-certain I would have equally enjoyed the music and, equally, had I not known of Mogwai I am sure I would have enjoyed the show. The music is a true stand-out feature for me in the series which sent me straight to the nearest record shop but I feel it’s worth noting that the music is in no way the ‘hero’ of the show. It elegantly accompanies and heightens the moods in the series without ever stealing focus as you would want from such a thing.

TL;DR – Check out Channel 4’s ‘The Returned’ and then enjoy the album. It’s a match made in eerily foggy French heaven.