In the second collaboration in this project, Patrick Baglee explores the ‘thrill [of] the sight of words finally made permanent on paper’.
Si Scott took this characteristically elegant and rhythmic composition and made his own beautiful, hand-crafted interpretation – further exploring the subject in a succinct and delightful manner.
Article by Patrick Baglee
It’s entirely possible that the act of being creative is a mystery to most of those not required to perform it every day. So the application of a process to creativity can - to a greater or lesser extent - help reassure those same people that it’s not an entirely indefinable pursuit. From the generation to the implementation of creative ideas, process is there to be unearthed, described, and shared. You could argue that having a creative process tends to be of greatest benefit to those who do not fully understand how it works, or are nervous of the possibilities of an untethered creative mind. Process clarifies without necessarily de-mystifying the ability to generate and then realize ideas that change behaviour or understanding. So it isn’t at all surprising that a similar process can also be applied to one of the fundamental pillars of successful design: writing. Writing is intrinsic to design; there to inform, amuse, explain and guide. Design gives writing shape, and print then gives it physicality.
My first stirrings as a writer within design followed an upsetting turn of events; namely, being told I wasn’t a particularly good designer. This despite three years studying design in the heart of Manchester and a further six years earning a modest but steady income with the job title of designer. However, I trusted the judgement of the man who gave me this crushing assessment and so I was inclined to take him at his word. To paraphrase him, I was better at the words than the pictures. Back then (and to some extent even now), writers in design were few and far between. There were agencies that prided themselves on a more eloquent approach and passion for language. But in terms of role models, there were few to consult with or look up to. In fairly short order, I had to build my own process and structure for writing in design.
My apprenticeship as a wordsmith began at MetaDesign and benefitted from the occasional guidance of Erik Spiekermann. His belief in the principle that ‘you cannot not communicate’ was as powerful a thought for a writer as it was for the designers to whom this phrase gradually became a primary philosophy.
Then, at direct marketing agency Evans Hunt Scott I wrote under the critical eye of Terry Hunt – an inspired and inspiring writer and one of the pioneers of direct communications in the UK. Much, if not all of the writing I did at EHS was specifically designed to create an action, guiding customers to the phone, the store, or their credit card.
One of the processes I employed (clumsily at first) was to consider what I wrote as following the journey from shopfront, to product, to sales-person to checkout with the aim of getting customers from open door to open wallet as swiftly as possible. Joe Sugarman, a doyen of direct advertising, went so far as to christen success in this task as being like a ‘greased chute’. The process, far from producing repetitious, automated letters, allowed me to consider the voice of the sales-person, and to decide to what extent to paint a picture of the shop and the product. Terry was a tough critic of any writing to customers, so much so that most of the letters I write at work (then and to this day) begin with the salutation ‘Dear Terry’. I still wince when I recall his first review of a letter I’d written that came back, only moments later, with a bold red ring around the entire text and the word ‘Eh?’ at the side.
My fondness and fascination for words in print began much earlier, and primarily because my father was a compositor. As a result, I was probably more type-aware than the average 8 year old. Specimen books, galleys and pieces of lead type were all within easy reach, as was a magnificent copy of Vincent Steer’s ‘Printing Design and Layout’. Bound in jet-black leatherette, foil blocked on spine and cover, it might as well have been the Bible for the ominous presence it had on the shelf. By the time I read it, it was already decades out of date. And yet even an early understanding of what it took to transform the written word into the printed word must have somehow stayed with me.
The physical act of writing is still one of the most pleasurable aspects of the whole job. Rarely does it begin on the keyboard, which somehow robs the whole thing of organic and slightly chaotic beginnings. Notes, scribbles, side-bars and cross-outs are all part of the resolution of an idea into a form of words that works.
How the writing takes shape still varies. Every now and then I’ll build a piece from a series of blocks. Always starting with a good understanding of the audience, the piece will take the required word count, break it down into manageable chunks, and then I’ll give every paragraph a role: introduction, summary of argument or content, illustrative anecdote, extension of the argument, a call back to the first paragraph, and then a conclusion. When writing at speed, this sort of bricklaying can work wonders, however far from the romantic notion of free flowing prose this might seem.
And when it comes to the physical act of printing, there is still (and always should be) a thrill to the sight of words finally made permanent on paper. Other media seem transient by comparison. Print has gravitas.
Now, many of the words I generate are less about providing content for a brand’s communications, and more about framing the essence of the brands themselves: their uniqueness, personality and behaviours. Words play such a fundamental role in the shaping of a brand that it’s hard to imagine a new brand starting life without first using words to describe it, where they test out, reveal and challenge the brand’s distinctiveness. And all this before even the first design thoughts can be usefully committed to paper.
Far from needing to close this piece with an overwrought plea, it appears to be a widely held belief among the thoughtful that words ought not to be poured into design (as functional, beautiful and elegant as some grids undoubtedly are). Words are intrinsic to the design process giving context to its levels and hierarchy, its sense of space and pace. Words, when considered by a skillful and sensitive writer, are as much of the substance of a design as is the furniture of colour, type and form. Words, in days gone by and when gathered from the type case by a master craftsman, would hit the page with an impact and force that rendered them almost sculpturally significant.
Now, the process of print enshrines writing in forms and textures that add and amplify meaning to new levels. All we need to make sure is that what we write, irrespective of the process of getting there, is up to the challenge.
Patrick Baglee biography
Patrick Baglee is a writer and Director of Creative Strategy at Navyblue. He’s worked in the voluntary, private and public sectors as a writer, designer and strategist in print, digital and TV. He’s worked with Barclays, British Gas, the COI, Diesel, Diageo, Tesco and Gilbert & George. He is the former chair of the Typographic Circle, and founder of 4Designers – an annual student conference in London and New York. His writing on design and typography has appeared in Eye, Design Week and Creative Review. He is the son of a compositor and lives in London.
Si Scott biography
Si Scott’s unique style of award winning hand crafted and hand drawn artwork has gained him a large and prestigious client list. He regularly exhibits and lectures around the world, places such as Tokyo, Sydney, Toronto, Norway and New York amongst others. He has judged many award competitions including the D&AD awards. Si is part owner of Paper Scissor Stone Store and is a visiting lecturer at the University of Huddersfield on the 3rd year BA Hons degree in Graphic Design & Illustration.
How to purchase a poster
A strictly limited edition of 100 A2 posters of Si Scott’s artwork, beautifully printed by Team and individually numbered can be purchased, priced £25.00 plus P&P. All proceeds will go to The Prince’s Trust ‘Team’ Programme.
By now (UK)
Buy now (Europe)
Buy now (Rest of the World)