A tour of quotidian English design

As representative and advisor for the Design Communication Arts program, I find myself noticing the good, bad, and ugly of design in the world around me with new appreciation. Never before have I so often paused at a particular design choice and asked myself, Why that typeface? Why that color? And, more importantly, What problem was the designer aiming to solve? What story is he/she aiming to tell?

And, what better than moving oneself 8000 miles to a new place for comparing and contrasting the wonder of workaday design. In my case, this comprised of a ten day trip to southeast England a few weeks ago – I’m not talking about any of the glitsy, high-budget design projects of London – there wasn’t a gherkin or ArcelorMittal Orbit in sight. These are the supermarkets, the florists, the newsagents of a typical, medium-sized English community. And these are the design choices that gave me pause:

Why fill the pound symbol with the Union Jack? In my experience, very few English homes display the Union Jack compared to American homes that display the Stars and Stripes. Is this supposed to foster a sense of patriotism in the customer? Is thriftiness a particularly British quality? I can’t imagine ever seeing a sign in a Los Angeles supermarket with the words, “We’re crunching prices for America.” Why are the letters in “PRICE CRUNCH set as if they’re experiencing an earthquake? (My LA eyes no doubt affect how I interpret this.)

Why is “tea time” in soft italics but “treats” is not? When, exactly, is tea time? I think it’s a late afternoon thing, though some Brits also use “tea” for what we’d call “dinner.” At the least, I felt excluded from whatever audience this was meant to reach.

Well, this sums up why you generally need flowers in life, doesn’t it? Either for smiles or tears — sometimes both. Are the italics meant to soften the name? Why fuschia?

This package design almost defies commentary. Why the rising sun – am I meant to eat it in the morning? How can bread be made of malt? Is “squidgy” a good form of energy? What do the giant grapes along the bottom have to do with anything?

I did slip one photo taken in London in here afterall, but I think it’s worth it. This is for a cafe that billed itself as a “British bakery.” Of course, you’ll recognize the iconic font from the famous wartime “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. Why use it again here? Is it meant to foster a sense of patriotism? A sense of shared history? Why model the design for a modern business after this particular era?

What design decisions in the world around you have gotten you thinking lately? Let us know by emailing photos, antecdotes, etc. to dca@uclaextension.edu.



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