Week 5 – The Collaborative Mix

‘Design to Change the World’ at the global design Forum, London Design Festival 2018. Chaired by Susanna Edwards.
‘Graphics That Engage’ at the global design Forum, London Design Festival 2018. Chaired by Susanna Edwards.
Presentation of Havana Club 3 and Jamieson Ltd Edition: collaborative projects by Pearl Fisher London

Collaboration is an excellent way to combine and strengthen individual skills and knowledge. We have been exploring different ways and methods of collaboration, both within design and within a larger multidisciplinary context. The lectures were very engaging this week, revisiting Offshore Studio and their Migrant Journal, and exploring the work of Morag Myerscough, as well as looking at some of Pearlfisher’s collaborative projects.

Offshore dove straight into where they find their projects, using this lovely animated diagram to show how these elements shift and change. As they are working with clients in different areas, and are themselves located in different geographic areas, they had not actually all met in one place until quite some time into their work on the Migrant Journal. This leads to diverse outlooks and a strong impactful work.

This collaboration felt very natural and easy compared to some of the others. Morag Myerscough shared an example of a time that she had presented a bright and cheerful design for a children’s hospital wing and was surprised at the negative reaction.

The nurses came back with feedback she was not expecting, that the designs were too loud, too chaotic and wouldn’t be restful for children coming around from anaesthesia or under the influence of other drugs. Rather than be knocked back by the feedback, Myerscough rethought the design, toning down some elements and increasing the natural tones used and incorporating more wood effect patterns. She also had models created so that the children and staff at the hospital could interact with the designs in a way that was more accessible than a flat and in your face drawing. Only by working with the end users, staff, hospital board and architects was the design job able to be completed.

Meyerscough builds strong collaborative projects anchored in a sense of place, using the community around the project to inform its outcome. I loved her emphasis on creating a sense of belonging, and community.

I enjoyed this talk by Danielle Pender from Riposte very much as well, I had looked at Riposte during a previous module and it was nice to hear an in depth piece about how it was developed. (I also learned that I had been pronouncing Riposte incorrectly for who knows how long, but I will claim US/UK English differences for that one.) A magazine seems like a very rich field for collaborative working as so many moving parts need to come together seamlessly, but having worked in a newspaper I feel like it very much depends on leadership. Is there room for the different departments to pitch ideas? How are those pitches responded to? Most periodicals work on a tight schedule and even tighter margins, Riposte seems to strike the correct balance of interesting editorial work while holding to their ideals.

Workshop challenge

What are the essential components of the collaborative mix?
Find one example of collaboration past or present that has led to an exemplary and historically significant piece of work.

The essential components of a collaborative mix for me are equality and the interplay of ideas. I don’t feel that you can be properly collaborative if there is a power imbalance, this leads to guarded work rather than all of the collaborators feeling free to contribute. I suppose I’m being quite narrow in my definition of collaboration. I can acknowledge other forms of collaborative working which are equally valid, such as commissioning specialists, or working within a larger organisation where a supervisory position is inevitable. I still feel that a power imbalance is anathema, and that the line between collaboration vs commission/commissioner is very fine. There is space for collaboration in a client/designer relationship as well, which takes trust and time to develop. I started researching famous collaborations but became quite frustrated. Most of the collaborations I was finding seemed to be anchored in the fashion world.

I posted about this on the ideas wall and had some good responses, but did not really find any answers to my question – “What is it about fashion that seems to make collaborations so engaging and common?” I do feel that quite a few brand collaborations seem more of a marketing gimmick, inviting a famous person to decorate one of their products or change a few colours around, rather than have any real design input.

One of the brands I looked into was Finisterre – a clothing company based in Cornwall. I admire their company ethos and have been impressed with the quality of their products. Services such as their Lived & Loved program repair and mend garments, offer repair kits and instructions to mend your items at home or offer a credit for trading in older products in an effort to create a circular economy. I’ve been aware of some of their fashion collaborations, including x Vans, x Palladium, x The Natural History Museum, but when I looked into them more I was very impressed. Even their fashion collaborations centre on their innovative materials and processes rather than just splashing a new pattern on another designer’s product. Where Finisterre really shine, however, is in their development projects and work with suppliers.

The Bowmont Project saw them working with renowned livestock expert Lesley Prior to strengthen and develop a rare flock of Merino sheep, saving them from dying out and using genetic science to produce superior British Merino wool.

They are also passionate about recycling wetsuits, a notoriously difficult prospect.

The project that struck me the most was their work on the Sea Suit, a collaborative effort to help women around the world remove barriers to participation in ocean sports. Finisterre ambassador  Easkey Britton found herself required to wear uncomfortable and dangerous heavy layers over a full wetsuit, while surfing in a remote part of Iran. She came home determined that there must be a safer way for women to surf while wearing culturally appropriate watergear. Working with Shirin Gerami, the first Iranian woman to compete as a triathlete, students from Falmouth University and Plymouth College of Arts, Finisterre have been working on a light and adaptable sea suit. They were hoping to launch it at the upcoming Olympic Games, but have had to put those plans on hold due to current events. I will be interested in following the development of this suit and hope it is able to be successfully launched as a viable product.

“From day one, this has been about a collaboration between women, to take what they love to do – surfing – and make it easier for more women to do.” – Easkey Britton, Finisterre Ambassador

I was still very frustrated that I couldn’t find a piece of work that seemed to be truly collaborative as well as being exemplary or historically significant. Finally I decided to pivot away from the design world and expand what I considered to be a collaboration.

 Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman met in 1985 and sparked a friendship that lasted beyond death. The two authors shared many sensibilities and went on to have strong and separate individual careers. Good Omens is one of the most beloved literary collaborations, the story of good and evil, angel an, ice creams and bookshops – packed full of wit and humour and warmth. When Gaiman sent Pratchett the beginnings of Good Omens, it was a short novella, unfinished and soon forgotten as his career was taking flight. Pratchett famously called him up to badger him about the story, telling him that he knew what should happen next and that if Gamain wasn’t willing to write it he should sell the idea and what he’d already written to Pratchett, or they could work on it together. As Gaiman is fond of retelling “It was an awful lot like Michelangelo calling you up and saying, ‘If you’re not doing anything this weekend, do you want to do a ceiling?” 

What followed was a fantastic, interweaving collaboration. Gaiman’s career had taken off, while Pratchett’s had moved from strength to strength. They composed the book together “mostly by shouting excitedly at one another down the phone a couple of times a day for two months, and sending a disk off to the other guy several times a week.” Distance coupled with conflicting schedules meant Gaiman would often wake to an answering machine message telling him to “Get up, get up, you bastard, I’ve just written a good bit!” (Pratchett and Gaiman 2006 403-404) Both authors raced each other to get to the next “good bit” and wrote and rewrote each other’s sentences so many times that neither could definitively say who wrote what. They had not expected the book to sell well, and were surprised by its success, but had a firm agreement to continue to write everything relating to the project together. 

When Pratchett died in 2015, of a rare form of Alzheimers, Gaiman was adamant that no further Good Omens projects would be developed. “Terry and I had a deal that we would only work on Good Omens things together. Everything that was ever written—bookmarks and tiny little things—we would always collaborate, everything was a collaboration.” Without that bedrock of collaboration, and grieving his long friendship, Gamain wanted nothing to do with further projects. 

Pratchett’s undaunted spirit lives on however, and he had arranged for a posthumous letter to be delivered to Gaiman, urging him to finish the project. This has resulted in a smash hit 6 part miniseries based on the novel, and notably, a sense of a posthumous collaboration. Gaiman describes writing the adaptation as upsetting, noting that at times he would get stuck and desperately want to ask Pratchett for advice, or to tell him about a particularly tricky bit he had figured out. 

He goes on to say that he did feel Pratchett’s presence, “Making it there was a little Terry Pratchett on my shoulder and when the producers would say,‘You’re going to have to cut this sequence because we don’t have enough money’, I could hear a little Terry Pratchett on my shoulder saying, ‘Well, bugger them,’ [upward squeak] let’s figure out how we’re going to do that.’ And that was really kinda reassuring. There were places where nice, rational, easygoing Neil Gaiman would have easily gone and started looking for a middle ground whereas because Terry was on my shoulder, I was like, ‘That’s not going to happen. Figure it out!” (Dougary 2019). 

Collaboration, at its best, produces work better than the sum of its parts. The story in Good Omens hinges on a never ending friendship between angel and demon. Thirty one years on, Good Omens remains a testament to friendship, the worth of humanity and the power of footnotes. 

I knew I wanted to include elements of the classic book covers, so I spent some time working on the title. The mixed sizes and letterforms of the font is included in almost every iteration of the title, and I chose a font that was similar without being a direct copy. I wanted to reference my version of the novel, which includes lovely dropped caps with custom woodblock illustrations. Given more time I would have liked to further develop my feathers, and created a linocut version to take prints from. I also made an effort to not design for print, as that is my comfortable area and I am trying to push myself further.

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References

BAILEY, Jess. 2017. Untitled – Coloured Pencils. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/l3N9Q27zULw [accessed Jul 2021].

DOUGARY, Ginny. 2019. “Good Omens: Neil Gaiman Reveals What He and Terry Pratchett Shared.” The Sydney Morning Herald [online]. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/culture/tv-and-radio/good-omens-neil-gaiman-reveals-what-he-and-terry-pratchett-shared-20190603-p51u1y.html [accessed 3 Jul 2021].

EDWARDS, S., KELLENBERGER, E., KIRTON, K., WHITE, S.  2021. Week 5b   [lecture]. GDE710 for MA Graphic Design. Falmouth: Falmouth University 2020 [Accessed 27 June 2021]

EDWARDS, S., MILLER, C., MEYERSCOUGH, M., SEIFFART, S.  2021. Week 5a    [lecture]. GDE710 for MA Graphic Design. Falmouth: Falmouth University 2020 [Accessed 27 June 2021]

FINISTERRE. 2021. “Into the Sea | the Finisterre Seasuit Project.” Finisterre [online]. Available at: https://finisterre.com/blogs/broadcast/into-the-sea-the-finisterre-seasuit-project [accessed 7 Jul 2021].

FIRST BROADCAST. 2014. “Nicer Tuesdays (Magazines) : Danielle Pender (Riposte).” YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOWyVOy7JwM [accessed 7 Jul 2021].

JORDISON, Sam. 2019. “Is Good Omens One of the Best Collaborative Novels Ever Written?” the Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2019/jan/29/good-omens-successful-joint-authorship-neil-gaiman-terry-pratchett [accessed 3 Jul 2021].

PEARLFISHER LONDON  2021. Week 5c    [lecture]. GDE710 for MA Graphic Design. Falmouth: Falmouth University 2020 [Accessed 27 June 2021]

PRATCHETT, Terry and Neil GAIMAN. 2006. Good Omens. . London: Transworld.

ROBINSON, Joanna. 2019. “Exclusive Video: Good Omens Author Neil Gaiman on Honoring the Late Terry Pratchett.” Vanity Fair [online]. Available at: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/good-omens-neil-gaiman-terry-pratchett-video-voice-of-god [accessed 3 Jul 2021].

UM STAMPS. 2018. “Morag Myerscough: Belonging.” YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoDUsBAfcwk [accessed 7 Jul 2021].

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