Week Ten: Case Studies Exploring Trends and Outputs of Influential Studios

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

This week's lecture was a guest lecture with Craig Oldham, a designer and director of Rough Trade Books, sister to the record label Rough Trade.

When discussing the designer's role, Craig described that the designer lands between the client and their audience.

When talking about the role of designer and bookmaker, Craig mentioned that the book's content should be steering the whole project rather than design. He referred to a quote by Michel de Montaigne when explaining the role of the designer as a curator in the bookmaking process, which says:

"I have gathered a bunch of other men's flowers, and all that is mine is the cord that binds them."

Michel de Montaigne

I think this is a great quote and makes the designers role in the bookmaking process very clearly in an eloquent way.

Craig also touched on the topic of originality at the top of the lecture and described how so many designers get caught up in trying so hard to be original. Therefore, it was refreshing to hear him talk about how being derivative leads to more successful work.

"I think all work is derivative is successful."

Craig Oldham

He even went on to say that something completely new can be beyond any realm of our understanding, and thus it can be rejected. Craig then described his process as pulling ideas or things from all the richness of humanity, and that process of pulling everything together is where the originality comes from.

Although the role of a graphic designer is becoming more fluid, Craig mentions that boundaries are good for setting goals; calling yourself a graphic designer reflects how you'll be treated and the work you'll attract because of that which you're trained to do, however, he also mentions that it's good to step out of those boundaries.

Craig put forward five questions a designer should ask themselves when creating new work, they were:

  1. Context: why am I doing this?

  2. Ownership: who are you doing it for? Is it for a client, an audience, or myself?

  3. Relevance: Is it worthwhile?

Craig mentioned a film that had inspired one of his latest projects, a film called They Live by John Carpenter. He described by looking at the film in detail; many connections were made between the film and notable designers, such as:

  • Jenny Holzer

  • Guerrilla Girls

  • Barbara Kruger

  • Shepard Fairy

In creating the project, Craig mentioned that he asked himself two questions, which were:

  1. What has this film got to say? (First and foremost)

  2. What do I want to talk to people about it?

Finally, his desire for the project was to attract an audience in the first place for one reason, with that same audience learning about something new from the project and wanting to find out more about it.

Look into:

  • Daniel Eatock

  • Erik Kessels

  • Sarah Boris

  • Naresh Mulchandani

Image: https://twitter.com/officeofcraig/status/1088716486531866625

My Own Private Idaho

Craig's discussion about publications in films reminded me of a scene in My Own Private Idaho (one of my favourite films) where the models on the covers of the male erotic magazines start moving and talking. The film is from the early 90's so to do the scene, they apparently used plastic sheeting with the graphics on the front, and the actors stood behind them.

Anthony Burrill: Make it Now

  • Be nice to everyone.

  • Anthony Burrill is from the analogue era and rarely uses a computer.

  • Created work with a photocopier.

  • Background in illustration and fine art.

  • Made books using a photocopier and sent them out.

  • 'Don't be normal.'

  • Letterpress.

  • 'Work Hard and Be Nice to People' came from being observant.

  • 'Ask more questions' work inspired by phrases.

  • Search for information.

  • Find your voice.

  • Speak up, be socially and politically engaged.

  • Do things physically.

  • Cut things up and enlarge them on the photocopier.

  • Work away from the screen.

  • Let ideas come organically.

  • Hand to eye stuff is really important.

Workshop Challenge

Christien Meindertsma

Image: PIG 05049 - christienmeindertsma

Is it their sole output?

Although Meindertsma has numerous images of books on her website, they're not her sole output. Her website reflects her fascination with materials, and her work depends on the material. As mentioned, Pig 05049 chronicles the many consumer products made from a pig called 05049, which is presented as a photobook.

For her graduation project, Checked Baggage, Meindertsma conducted research at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam in the nervous months after 9/11 to discern at what point one becomes safer. The books' content is an exhaustive catalogue of all the items confiscated from travellers in one week at Schipol airport. Everything from children's cutlery to potato knives, hairdressers' scissors to nail clippers were amongst the items seized and later photographed and depicted in the book.

Are they passion projects, or are they opportunities where they saw a gap in the market?

As mentioned, Meindertsma's website reflects her fascination with materials, and therefore I believe her books are an extension of that fascination rather than exploiting an opportunity in the market. Her book Checked Baggage was created whilst at university sparked by her curiosity about confiscated items following 9/11, so I think her work comes from what interests her and her passion for materials.

Image: Checked Baggage - christienmeindertsma

Bruno Munari

Image: Bruno Munari’s ABC, first edition and Chronicle Books edition - Fonts In Use

Is it their sole output?

During his lifetime, Munari worked across a broad spectrum of visual art, including film, sculpture, painting, and children's books were included within that spectrum. Munari's books were not only objects to behold, but to experience through different materials, types of binding, experimental typography, illustrations, and colours, to name a few of the techniques and tricks he employed. Munari's children's books remain among the most popular and are still in print today. In Bruno Munari's ABC (1960), one of his alphabet books, he offers a mix of objects, leaving it open for kids to build stories around them. Munari said in 1981: "These messages are not supposed to be finished literary stories like tales because that would have a repetitive and uncreative influence on the child…Before it's too late, individuals must be taught to think, imagine, dream and be creative." Munari's ABC book is unique and beautiful. The design and illustrations appeal to both children and adults.

Are they passion projects, or are they opportunities where they saw a gap in the market?

In 1945 Munari's son Alberto was born, which was the start of Munari's children's book. I believe Munari's children's books began as a passion project towards his son. By having a constant source of inspiration from his son and then being exposed to the world of children's books, Munari must have felt compelled to create something of his own whilst inspiring a new generation of creative thinkers.

Image: Taken at the Taiwan Design Museum

List of 10 Ideas

List of 10 Ideas

1.) An archive of live comedy posters (book):

From Charlie Chaplin to Stewart Lee, how have live comedy and tour posters been influenced by culture, politics, economics and art movements (such as Surrealism and Dadaism) over the past 150 years?

2.)History of comedy props (book):

How have props been used in comedy throughout history? How were they made? How were they used? What cultural significance did they have?

3.)A Love Letter to My Own Private Idaho (book):

A curation of essays, photographs, the original script and notes made by River Phoenix in celebration of the film My Own Private Idaho.

4.)Tales From Calais (book):

This would be a book curated of stories and photographs from volunteers in (and still are in) Calais supporting refugees.

5.)Bad life drawing (book/exhibition):

I took a few life drawing classes a little while back to improve my drawing. Out of many attempts, only a couple of my drawings turned out to be decent. This would curate peoples' first attempts at life drawing and their stories/reasons for starting.

6.)Pointless graffiti (book):

A photo book of terrible graffiti.

7.)Analogue photo film book (book):

This would be a curation of cinematic analogue photography from various photographers with a similar style. The photographs would be put together in a book to create a story.

8.)House Plants (book):

A book detailing how different houseplants can affect your physical and mental health through creating mini-ecosystems and air purification, as well as tips on how best to look after them through photography and illustration.

9.)Artificial Reefs Around The world (book):

A photographic book on different artificial reefs around the world and how they're saving the planet.

10.)A History of the Selfie (book):

From painting to analogue and digital photography, how have we documented our own existence from the dawn of humankind? What's the significance of taking a selfie? What trends have been and gone and been again? How have fashion and hairstyles changed?


Craig delivered a very insightful lecture. It was interesting that something small, like a scene in a movie, could have so much attached to it. It shows that there's so much out there and available to work with, but you have to look for it. Coming up with ten ideas was difficult past the first few, but I am confident I have at least one decent idea to pursue.


flex.falmouth.ac.uk. (n.d.). Log in to canvas. [online] Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/897/pages/week-10-guest-lecture-craig-oldham?module_item_id=50711 [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].

www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Anthony Burrill : Make It Now. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuaHeuzqKvE [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].

christienmeindertsma.com. (n.d.). PIG 05049 — christienmeindertsma. [online] Available at: https://christienmeindertsma.com/PIG-05049 [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].

Budds, D. (2015). Bruno Munari Will Make You Fall In Love With Books All Over Again. [online] Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3047507/bruno-munari-will-make-you-fall-in-love-with-books-all-over-again [Accessed 8 Aug. 2021].

DAMN° Magazine. (2020). Christien Meindertsma, Redesigning Reality. [online] Available at: https://www.damnmagazine.net/2020/07/26/christien-meindertsma-redesigning-reality/ [Accessed 8 Aug. 2021].

27 views0 comments