Last night the GOV.UK website won Design of the Year after winning it’s category – Digital – last month. Significantly, I think, it is the first website to win the prize.
The work itself is excellent, the team is outstanding. I know and have worked with some of them, and they genuinely are some of the very best in their fields. The win is well deserved.
The transformation of the organisation is less talked about, and despite obvious setbacks (“Digital by Default” came under fire recently, “Identity Assurance” seems to be taking longer than originally sold) massive progress has clearly been made.
But I think they have won something for us outsiders too. For everyone working in digital generally, and design in particular they’ve won the right to finally say “No” and do less, better.
To do it properly and stop cutting corners. To take the time to start small, write yourself principles and guidelines – and then follow them. Any coincidence that the Service Manual was published yesterday?
No doubt, people will copy now – but that’s the point. This isn’t just a really good website that almost everyone will use. It’s a guide on how to make really good websites for anything, for everyone and that’s powerful.
So thank you GDS.
Imagine if that power could, inevitably, sell things too? I await the ‘gov.uk of advertising’ with, almost, positivity.
With the last few official Pentagram books being big collections dominated by the work, the insights into how they work, how the firm is structured and mostly how they each think about design seemed to be airbrushed out of an increasingly corporate picture.
So maybe to redress the balance, here comes this chunky book of individual interviews with each partner and it more than fills the hole. The distinctive work of partners accompanies each piece too, finally extracting the strands of specialism from the fabric of Pentagramness. It is about 2004, and a tiny bit digital emerges, in the form of installation work by Lisa Strausfeld. Revolutionary.
The book photo above tipped off to collect the set. Covetous. You can pick up this fine hardback Phaidon book new or used for very fair prices from Amazon.
A tiny wee book, roughly around 1999 – no copyright or ISBN so I guess made for clients, guests and friends and not usually for sale. I can’t find much about it, a rarity. It’s filled with around 100 pages of some iconic brands, and a few that are, er… a little of their time, the Metreon brand for example. Lovely little book though.
This seems to pop up quite often and relatively cheaply on Amazon used, so maybe not that rare?
It’s nine years after the monstrous volume Five, post-dotcom crash, and the 2007 sub-prime home loan crash. Times are dark. Time for an austerity Pentagram: The Black Book.
Printed as a smaller, more modest size it still packs in the work. 800 pages covering 400 projects. In their own words, “arranged in alphabetical order, like a dictionary, and printed on Bible paper, like a Bible, complete with tabbed sections and ribbons for bookmarking.”
It’s a beautiful object (indeed, it won a book design award) and was never available to buy, with a few copies given to clients and friends. It contains a wildly varied selection of work – and even the odd website. Most interesting, for me, is the appearance of the Pentagram GUI – the Sugar UI work for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, but I’ll return to that another time.
This book was never available to buy, and is therefore very rare with used copies turning up only occasionally on Amazon or Ebay.
Pentagram continues! It’s 1999, exciting times – early days of the New Labour government, the end of the Clinton era, the dot com boom! And here is another telephone directory sized volume of work. 50 solid case studies in fact fill out the 500 hundred pages covering the period between 1993 and 1998.
So we have some extremely tasteful packaging, modern with just the right amount of classicism to fit timelessly on the shelves. That international slick and corporate yet homely country kitchen style? Pentagram nailed that. The wide tracked type filling each line. Nailed. The curvaceous pastel plastic household electricals? Nailed. The tactile, eye burning electro-pop record cover? Er… nailed.
Number of websites? Zero. Number of user interfaces? Zero. Ah.
The introduction is an interesting piece, exposing the slight fib in early Pentagram days about their organisation and inherent collaborative nature. Turns out, they didn’t really do it: the partners pretty much ran distinctly separate practices under a red umbrella. Described are the steps the firm took to expand into the US, and embrace their second generation. With extremely tight graphic design, mostly for print, packaging and signage fully represented hindsight suggests a small digital blindspot.
Still, a cracking telephone directory. Remember telephones? Anyway, prices vary widely from cheap to not so cheap on Amazon used.
If the previous book felt a little lightweight, Compendium weighs in for the defence. Big, wide, fat and bright red this volume covers the period up to 1993. Quite the interesting cut off date, as this is a distinctly pre-digital. Sure, there’s lots of desktop typesetting of the highest quality, but the world this work lives in is still unchanged, unconnected.
It’s difficult to condense the contents of this book into a couple of montages – there is loads of it, and some decent sized essays by the partners and others to accompany the really good quality images. The number of partners (including, briefly, Peter Saville) has clearly increased, as has the amount of US based work.
This big book reflects a busy, big, global design agency. First editions are quite expensive used, while second editions seem much cheaper.
Hardcover this time – fancy. So here we are in 1986, and Pentagram must have been really busy because they appear to have phoned this one in. No analysis of design agency life, but a tepid introduction from ad man Peter “Year in Provence” Mayle – how very 80s.
As a picture book of the work, it feels a bit thin, relying on graphic design much more heavily than in earlier collections. The pages are sparse, not so much packed with insight and drawings, works in progress or unfinished concepts. The influence of new technology in their most primitive forms are beginning to be felt, but not yet deeply understood. Even the logotypes turn out less timeless and more style over substance. The 80s.
But even here, on a bad day, Pentagram still throw down a few legendary shapes. Their worst is better than many others best. This first proper coffee-table design book sold loads, so used copies are available literally for pennies..
It’s 1978 and the world is getting redesigned, mostly by Pentagram it seems. This book is fantastic, and I wish I’d had it as a young designer. Packed with the usual mix of architecture, interior, graphic and product design (with maybe a tiny bias to the product here) as well as some detailed project dissections this book also contains the first dive into the tradecraft of design. With a chunk of the rationale presented to clients to persuade and direct, we discover more of the ‘why’ of design.
The written work is a real joy too: there is an essay about product design “The first fifty years” by Kenneth Grange, a piece by Theo Crosby on architectural conservation and a revealing (and fun) description of “How Pentagram works” – along with team-at-work photos.
This book sold by the bucketload, so copies should be easily available from Amazon used books.
Except mine isn’t a first edition (1972) but a US reprint by the Whitney Library of Design (1974) and they had already expanded to six partners so stopped counting.
The work here does the talking, with broad sections for interiors, graphics and industrial design with some clients spanning more than one area, showing off the multi-disciplinary strength of Pentagram. For Reuters, not only producing the ingenious ticker-tape brand but expanding to build a beautiful woodland radio listening chalet and Clockwork Orange style boardroom.
The graphic design especially is crisp and fresh, much of it would feel perfectly contemporary now, as would most of the interiors and architectural projects.
This book suffers a bit from a lack of colour plates, and the image quality of the other images isn’t the finest ever, but this was meant to be an accessible book, presenting design in the shape of one particular agency to the world.
It’s not that rare, but not as cheap as you might expect. See Amazon UK used books.
Tschichold in the 1920s was a pioneer of incredible, beautiful asymmetrical typographic based layouts, an literally wrote the book on this new style, called The Neue Typography (here’s a PDF). And then, he rewrote the book on classical symmetrical typography too. Master. I don’t have that (The Form of the Book) for obvious reasons. Nor a PDF …yet.
Back in a dusty design studio at art college there was one slim, battered book we conspired to keep out on loan from the library at all times, on rotation between us. It was the Ruari Mclean biography of Tschichold and perfectly covered the modernist work from the 1920s and the return to classicism of 1940s into Penguin and beyond. But, I didn’t buy that book.
This is a massive Thames & Hudson volume, with a deeper and wider spread of work, stuff I hadn’t seen elsewhere or in good quality large reproduction. It is a monster design book, even the ink density seems be higher than many others I’ve seen. Bravo.
It’s not even that expensive on Amazon new or used.