Designing the Future

 

In a sea of hot-takes and off-the-cuff put-downs regarding the current snap election in the UK, I realise adding yet another one to all the noise has all the effect of a fart in a tannery but I want to look specifically at the aesthetics of these campaigns and how it reveals more than you might think. A close look at the Labour and Conservative manifesto’s graphics can tell you just as much as the policies inside. In addition I want to look at some of the language used by both sides and how that also – literally – speaks volumes for their ideologies. I won’t be looking at policies necessarily and while there is some cross over this isn’t necessarily a criticism of either parties pledges or policies. Here is a link to Labour’s manifesto and the Conservative manifesto so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Let’s start with the most glaring difference between the two: Web optimisation. Labour has dedicated an entire subsection of their site to their manifesto, each section of it has its own webpage making it quicker to load. You scroll or swipe down to carry on reading and on the desktop version an image is justified to the left and remains static. There is a menu for each chapter allowing you to jump easily to the section of the chapter you want to read. This all speeds up load times and is very efficient. The Conservative manifesto is pdf in a media player on a single page of their website. In the page it is small and difficult to read but you can full screen it, however it still displays as a pdf in a book format (complete with animated page turning) and does not fill the browser. The player is much slower to load too due to the more complicated requirements of the animated elements. In addition Labour’s is more web native so downscales well for mobile devices which is how a majority of people will get their first access to it whereas the Conservatives’ relies on the ISSUU player and does not alter its appearance depending on what device you view it from, whilst this maintains consistency cross platform it makes it much harder to read if you’re viewing it on a smaller device. Now, importantly, the Conservative web manifesto is less friendly to the differently abled, certainly people without finger dexterity or who have vision problems, whereas Labour’s is much simpler to use and easier to read.

Now let’s look at font and text layout. The Conservatives have gone for a classical serif-based approach with Garamond (the font this article is written in), Labour instead have gone for the sans-serif, clean lines of Helvetica. As well as being visually opposite to one another the history of these fonts is poles apart too. Garamond was designed by engraver Claude Garamond in the 16th century for old printing presses, Helvetica on the other hand is a modernist font from the 50s by designer Max Miedinger. Generally in English we are used to seeing the printed word in a serif type like Baskerville or Times New Roman (named after the paper it was designed for) as it more readily appeals to our eyes that seek more human handwriting patterns, whereas Helvetica is much more a display font due to its clarity (used in the logos for American Airlines, Toyota, North Face, FedEx). Now on the printed page I’d argue Garamond works better in the lengthier prose sections except it has the effect of making the Conservative manifesto look dense an impenetrable, like the long form prose of a novel. Labour’s font may be plain and rather flat but it looks much easier to take in at a glance and therefore more welcoming. Online however it’s a different story. There are more sans-serif fonts on websites than serif, Helvetica is a fit for purpose multi-platform font that is clear and simple whatever device you read it on, Garamond is not (he said, writing in Garamond). Whilst it is definitely not like other web fonts and certainly looks ‘classier’ it is neither inviting nor easy to read. Unfortunately the Conservatives further compound this illegibility by seriously messing up the kerning (the spacing between characters). The Initial (those big letters that start the chapters) is really badly cramped against the paragraph, to the point of nearly overlapping – a design no no. Labour’s kerning is on point however, plenty of spacing between characters, aided by Helvetica’s clean lines, and a pronounced white box around the Initials Also the Conservatives’ page layout is cluttered and dense, Labour’s is sparse and minimal. The Conservative Manifesto reads more like a text whereas Labour’s reads like a power point presentation. The former is undoubtedly ‘powerful’, with more gravitas, but Labour’s is much more like the bulletin board it should be.

Labour’s Manifesto is much more in keeping with the design aesthetic of today (specifically web design) whereas the Conservatives’ is more like what we picture a formal legal or government document to look like. The latter is very much in keeping with the repeated dirge of ‘Strong and Stable’ and portrays the Conservatives as a more classical, traditional party but it is undeniably drab with it’s dour palette of Black, White and Blue. Labour’s on the other hand looks like every pamphlet you get dropped through the door: bright red, with the white shining cleanly through and – importantly – full colour images and colour coded sections. This speaks of Labour’s idea of inclusion, it is open and inviting with pictures of different people of varying gender and ethnicity. The Conservatives’ speaks more of its belief in individualism and the state stepping back to allow you to imprint you personality on to the policies and their presentation. In both cases both designs are not bad at all, they both reflect the message the party wishes to impart in the content of the writing itself and does so admirably, the point I’m making is that these designs are specifically tailored to appeal to their core voter and any undecided voter. Personally I find the Conservatives’ design to be an ugly, cluttered, austere mess with kerning issues and a shocking lack of understanding about web optimisation, whereas Labour’s is a minimalist, modernist’s wet dream i.e. Me.

Then there is the question of cost. Labour provided a financial break down of their manifesto promise in a separate sheet that broke down the costing. This was due to constant criticism by the press and the other parties that the socialist program was a myth and could not be properly funded. The Conservatives, with no such pressure, have provided no information on how their manifesto pledges will be paid for.

Now let’s look at the language of these manifestos and their respective launches. The Conservatives seem to be pushing the party to the background by constantly referring to Theresa May and her team, her foreword is littered with “I” and “My”, promoting the idea of individuality and (rather ironically given her and the party’s criticism of the ‘identity politics’ around Corbyn) that you would be voting for the leader who is much more popular than her party because apparently people still have the Mummy issues left over from the Thatcher era. Ahem. Labour talk about “we” “us” and “our” promoting their ideology of a shared society, community and a government integrated with the populace instead of one that steps back at times of crisis. Then there was the way the leader’s introduced their manifestos. Alright this is where I really get on my soapbox. Jeremy Corbyn used the same language in introducing his policies in an open airy space, unmolested or delayed by protesters. Theresa May’s however was delayed not just on the day but the manifesto’s printing itself was delayed four times (allegedly). Corbyn spoke of we and you and us and our where May talked of I and me and my. For all the talk of not trusting Corbyn you had better really bloody trust May as her words were that this was “My manifesto … a vision of the country I want this to be after Brexit”. That to me is terrifying and the true politics of identity. She spoke of wanting “to build a country” and that is telling. Brexit to her means destruction. It means the collapse of the previous Britain with its worker’s rights and moves toward equality, so the Conservatives would then have the ability after Brexit to build the country anew in their own image, or should I say hers. Corbyn’s introduction spoke of “unleashing Britain’s potential” after Brexit not attempting to reconstruct and introduced the policies saying “I am very proud to present OUR manifesto”. Believe what you like about the cult of Corbyn he is not the one publicising it, Theresa May – despite point blank denying it – most definitely is relying on the cult of her own.

My personal politics and loathing for the Tories and Theresa May aside what the manifesto launches and the manifestos themselves make plain is what is on offer from either party and not just in the policies themselves. On the one hand you have a severe, cold, austere, classical, stately manifesto of gravitas and great circumstance and on the other you have an open, warm, colourful, modern, simple manifesto of inclusion and assistance. I know which one I’ll be buying a hard copy of.

There’s still time to register to vote. Takes two minutes. Click here. Then vote for anyone except the Tories.

Sold Out

judas

Once upon a time there was a notion, seen as unforgivable, called  “selling out”. This was the idea that your integrity in whatever field was up for sale and whatever it was you had to offer, once bought, could never be retrieved as it was now “sold out”. It is often used in reference to artists of various kinds. The most egregious cases of selling out were when it was to do with advertising. It is often used as a weapon by seething rivals to wave at their more successful peers to draw attention to their lack of integrity and that their talents are for sale to the highest bidder. Some would argue, however, that utilising the money and exposure offered by some form of larger cultural presence, such as a business etc, is a great thing as it allows the artist to develop without the constraints of poverty and allows a greater audience to see their work. In a capitalist society the latter is generally seen as the focus for any artist but never more so than now.

The notion of “selling out” is all but gone today. The young creative sector of society’s only goal today is to sell their creations or  ‘content’ to the highest bidder at the earliest available opportunity. Youtuber’s (almost universally between the ages of 16 to 26) main aim is to gain a large enough following to tempt companies to advertise on their channel for an intermittent and wildly unrepresentative fee, singers and musicians believe their only route into success is to now use the various television “talent” contests developed purely to make money for the hosts and to be owned, wholesale, by the promotion company owned by oily, bleach toothed, hair dyed, billionaires. Fine artists and graphic designer’s greatest goal seems to be that their art is used in an advertising campaign.

Then there are the deluded artists (like me) who believe that integrity is all that matters when it comes to art, in whatever form. That believe art should not be censored or compromised for any reason, least of all money. That any creation is compromised the moment it requires substantial financial input, because that means that there a many more vested interests that believe they know how best to create the thing for the maximum return on investment. Whilst larger artistic works certainly require involvement from people other than the artist to create a piece, there tends to be a guiding hand. Which is where the idea of selling out came in. To make a film say, requires a lot of money up front to develop and produce and in western society that is an investment (and a high risk one at that) and the more input from outside sources the less control there is from the artist but for a book say it just requires the writer and their editor, right? Not any more. The publisher needs to cover costs too and the Big Six publishing houses need to turn over massive profits every year to maintain their lists so there will be executive input there too. What this amounts to is the fact that if you create anything of any kind your next step to being able to earn money from it is to literally sell it i.e. give away the thing you have created for a fee so it no longer belongs to you. Many business minded people would see not agreeing with this as precious but many artists (like me) see this sale as an unnecessary step it the creative process.

I think this death of the idea of selling out is largely due to the death of foundations, institutions and bodies that would assist artists or talents in their develop with the knowledge they would not make their money back, that their investment in culture was the return. In an age where universities now charge £9k per year – a figure set to rise in the coming few years – and where students are treated as consumers and then duly act like consumers, their education a commodity, the notion of social enterprise for no financial reward is an unthinkable concept. Therefore any creator’s drives must be largely financially minded today, you can no longer want to do something creative purely for the sake of creation, there must be recompense. As such, you must then sell. This sale is so much part of every industry today it isn’t even referred to so selling your product isn’t an unpleasant route that some artists or creations mistakenly take to be rich and famous, it is the goal in western (but let’s be honest, global too) society.

My utter utter despair at my fellow countrymen at the beginning of May for voting in such an unashamedly cowardly and self-centred way was also tempered with surprise at my own naivety that people would not vote for the outwardly cruel and despicable bunch of self serving cunts we now have in power by virtue of the slimmest majority possible. Scotland and Ireland voted (rightly) for themselves and so did England. The majority of voters in England sold out any notion of integrity for personal gain this last general election because they voted for their own pockets, to stay rich, middle class and take care of themselves and their own families knowing full well they were voting for five more years of food banks, public sector cuts, austerity, punishing the poorest and sickest in society and generally a government that any so-called ‘civilised’ country would be ashamed to have rule them. That to me, is the definition of “selling out” and the simple fact that but for one march in London little has been done or said to protest this fact means this mentality is the prevailing wind in this country I now bitterly call home.

I don’t deny I want to be a published author still as I would like to make a living from my writing but in light of our current regime and overall disgust with the attitude of the people in England I am more resolute in my desire than ever to not accept that to succeed is to be selfish. To truly succeed is to be selfless. Altruism outlives you and affects far more than your children or grandchildren. I have been long-term unemployed for the last 3 years (yet mercifully found a job just as the money obsessed Conservatives gained power) and was able to survive purely through the kindness of other people. My Dad was not wealthy and I did not inherit any great deal of money but I did inherit a support network of hundreds of people who have all in small or large ways kept me going over the last three years. I can tell you who hasn’t: British social institutions, our government and by extension our society as a whole. Every time I went to institutions for help they were either entirely unhelpful or incredibly bitter that they had to help me at all and when they did it was made as difficult for me as possible to garner any assistance at any turn. I was made to feel like a criminal and villain simply for the unforgivable crime of not earning money. This sanctified notion of “working families” that is all any political party cares about. The government sells its wares and expects returns despite being malfunctioning and piss-poor in its delivery and effects, my Father gave his away and his legacy is still present today. The same goes for most of the good people I know. If you sell yourself all you get in return is more money which many say is enough, I don’t. I’m greedy. I want to be happy and want other people to be happy and safe and fulfilled and creative. Money never has been able to and never will be able to purchase that.

Judas Iscariot was paid 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus’ trust and in so doing, causing Jesus’ death and then later his own suicide. All for 30 pieces of silver. Those coins are long since lost (if they ever existed) and would never be recognised amongst the currency of the day as it is. Judas sold out, it earned him little but cost him everything.

If you are looking for compassion here in England now, I’m sorry. We’re all sold out.

An addition to the ‘Canon’…

Given how disgusted and appalled I was with the result of the 2010 general election you can probably guess my utter despair at the result from the weekend. My contempt for the Conservatives and their media “supporters” (read as: sponsors, legislators and best chums) now borders on that of the worst far right parties of history. After the last election I self-published a small pamphlet of poetry that raged against the dying of the light but that just seems too puny to fight what is apparently the national public opinion that right wing politics and selfishness is the way forward. But frankly it’s about all I can do now.

Below is my first of no doubt many anti-Tory/austerity poems and would love it if you could share it, particularly to people you might know who are inclined to the right. Written in the Victorian style Gove loves so much and using the Conservative Party font, I hope the message isn’t too subtle to sink in. Please share the jpg or the text, I’m not fussed about credit, just get it out there. I’ll be tweeting it too if you’re so inclined.

Keep the faith, people with a soul and consideration for others tend win through in the end. It’s going to be a looooong 5 years.

giantsofalbion

Bye, bye Brian Jacques and Goodbye Libraries.

On the evening of the 5th of February one of my favourite writers and a real hero of mine passed away. Brian Jacques wrote the Redwall series, among others, and was a noted broadcaster up here in the north. The Redwall books were made into films, cartoons, radio plays, translated into many languages and published in hundreds of countries. He was a witty, lively and enthusiastic writer who gave me one of the best pieces of advice anyone could ever give to another writer. Similar to the lionised J.K. Rowling, he didn’t try to be cool and cash in with trends, fads or modern technology, he realised more topical ‘issues’ were best left to other writers and instead wrote some of the best and most rollicking adventure novels in print. A true original, a one of a kind and a great talent.

Redwall was the first ‘proper’ book I read (i.e. A book without pictures and that was longer than 50 pages or so) at the age of about 5 or 6. I read quite a bit for my age and picked up what I could at the library but the other ‘Big Books’ I read were interminably dull and tedious. A friend of mine mentioned this book Redwall he had read and suggested I might like it too so I asked my Mum if she had heard of it. Oddly not only had she heard of it, she owned a copy that she told me she had read whilst pregnant with me. So that summer I sat down to read it and without a hint of hyperbole, my life changed. Inside I found Heroes, derring-do, sword fights, puzzles and riddles, songs, poems, adventure, fun, fantasy, quests, monsters, horror, gore, jokes, recipes and everything else anyone could want from a novel. I didn’t put it down for the next week. I remember waking up early on a Sunday just so I could carry on reading and find out what would happen to Matthias. I had never been gripped in quite the same way before (until later that summer I saw The Last Crusade at the Cinema and nearly died with joy at that too) and have rarely been since. Whenever I read Redwall now I am happily plunged back to being that little boy sitting in the baking hot sun in the garden of my old house absolutely gripped by these tales of heroic mice and villainous rats. There is no other book like it for me and there is only one man to thank for that…

I met Brian Jacques too, you know. When I was at secondary school. My Mum told me the day before the event that he was doing a signing in the Canterbury branch of Waterstone’s. It was fairly soon after school though so I wouldn’t have made it back home in time to change and grab a book to sign. So Mum said she would pick me up from school and drive me there from school. So the next day I took my Collector’s Edition of Redwall (I had got the previous Christmas from my sister as Mum’s copy was now rather dog-eared (I still have it)) with me to school, made absolutely certain it wouldn’t get nicked or flushed down the loo by fellow students (Jesus, I hated that school) and then got picked up by Mum. Traffic was awful but I made it just in time, I made it to the door just as the lady was locking it but she took pity on me, Mum gave me a tenner to get me home on the bus which was handy as the ticket for the signing was £7 to get in (that dates the story – I got home on the bus for £3, wouldn’t get me a single these days. *ahem*). Anyway I took a seat, still in my uniform, at the back of the room and listened happily to his little talk and as he answered questions including one from me. He came across as jolly and playful with a childlike sense of awe about everything and a real love for adventure that I shared. He suggested reading Homer which I then did and am eternally grateful for and as I say, gave me that great bit of advice. Then we all cued up to have him sign our books. Which he did. And I still have mine. And it is pride of place in my living room now. Nothing profound I know but it meant a great deal to me and still does, he is the man who got me started on good reading and most importantly, good writing, so meeting him was a real thrill and still is.

A few years later, I rented Salamandastron from my local library along with a book called The Dark Portal by Robin Jarvis. Dark Portal is similar to Redwall in that it is about anthropmorphised rodents but their tone and setting could not be more different; where Redwall is light and moralistic, Dark Portal is bleak, dark and unremitting in its atmosphere yet these two books pretty much summed up all my tastes from there on. Redwall showed me what I wanted to do and opened a whole world of literature up to me and Dark Portal showed me the type of content and atmosphere that – for better or worse – was, inherently, my own. I love these two books so much not just because of their impact on me but the fact they are really good books. And do you know how I got to read them? I got them from my local library.

Allow me a soapbox moment; Almost everyone I know has a story like the one I just told. Everyone has a book they love, everyone. Just as many have also used the library at some point, I have many fond memories of my library and I know so many people who have stories about going to the library as a kid. And my old library is irrefutably rubbish. Libraries are important parts of the community and foster a different kind of youthful vigour and interest. If you find a great book, young or old it makes you HAPPY! This should surely be encouraged? Not only all this they are FREE! Anyone can use them. The poorist to the richest have access to a vast world of knowledge and excitement in every town, how flippin’ cool is that?! Not only that, most good libraries have computers, the internet, DVDs, local archives, document storage, local information and community events held there and IT IS ALL FREE! Libraries aren’t elitist, racist, homophobic, jingoistic or any other negative -ist or -ic, they exist just so you can USE them. And what is happening? They are being closed. I have one response to this;

Fuck you David Cameron and your entire unelected cabinet.

Education, learning and just basic fucking Literacy is not a privilege for the rich. You take this away and this will come back and bite you so hard you’ll think you arse is in a pressure clamp.

Okay, enough of my vitriol.

My point is I love books and if I have my way I should get to write them for a living one day and the biggest reason I want to do that is down to Brian Jacques. The biggest reason I can do that is thanks to my local Library. Don’t let Libraries die quietly and unnoticed, we will be a MUCH poorer nation for it. Show your support by signing your local petition, writing to your MP, get tweeting or just BORROW A FLIPPIN’ BOOK from one. The written word is one of our oldest and best technologies and commodities, don’t let it become exclusive to the rich. I don’t want to end up missing Libraries.

I do miss Brian Jacques however. I need add nothing more to my previous comments. He was a great chap and a great writer. For many years after I should have ‘grown out’ of the Redwall series I was still bought his latest book for christmas by my sister every year. There won’t be anymore but he did leave behind a great collection of stories that I will happily pass on to my Nephew and Niece and hopefully they will read with as much fervent wonder as I did.

My mother pointed out by waving ‘bye-bye’ to Brian Jacques it seems I am waving ‘bye-bye’ to a large part of my childhood. I am inclined to agree. As a little boy I could often be found with a book under my arm and chances are it would normally be a Redwall book. I am hardly old but that little boy seems very far away these days and he seems further away than ever now that one of his heroes has left us.

Bye, bye Brian. And thank you. From me and that little boy.

 

Oh, and what was that piece of advice?…

“Paint pictures with words”