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| Mention the name Osbourne Ruddock and you’ll probably be greeted with a puzzled expression. Mention instead his pseudonym King Tubby and they’re more than likely to recognize the pioneer of the Jamaican sound system (and widely considered to be the father of dub). With its crippled economy and notoriously high crime rate, the Island nation of Jamaica can only but inspire personal reinvention. In the past this haas been done via the theatre of the pseudonym. Put together Jamaica’s heritage as an English colony and the Rastafarian devotion to the Ethiopian King Salassi and you end up with a deeply engrained aspiration to nobility. And if you’re born in impoverished Trenchtown and unlikely to be royalty by birth the easiest thing to do is to simply invent it. The result was an entire royal subculture of faux identity built purely by consensus and competition. Alongside the famed King Tubby sits many other kings – King Stitt, King Horror, King Ska, King Big Edwards, a handful of Princes – Prince Buster, Prince Far I, Prince Jammy, Prince Jazzbo, a couple of Lords – Lord Creator, Lord Tanamo, Lord Koos of the Universe, and many other incarnations of high social status such as Sir Coxsone, Sir Biggs, Count Ossie, General Echo and Admiral Cosmic.


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| A few years ago the graphic design community was up-in-arms about the rise of websites such as Sites like these enable the user to go through a wonderfully abbreviated design process – simply selecting the client industry, a graphic from a set of templates and, most impressive of all, a typeface from a curious font menu. The result is an instant logo generated online – the logo above took above 45 seconds, combining the shaking hands motif with a typestyle called Funky. Whenever these sites are discussed. the proclamations of a graphic design doomsday ring loud.  Most surprising about this reaction is the fear that clients would actually prefer to go through this (45 second) online process than to have their visual communication fully addressed in a more meaningful and analytical way. The ‘graphic design shorthand’ these sites produce may actually help designers by accentuating the importance of the design process itself. By generating these bland emblems of non-identity, Logomaker clearly defines its market. And in the process leaves those who are prepared to go through a process of well considered visual communication for the rest of us.


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| What LogoMaker teaches us (by absence) is that identity systems respond to a complex set of criteria and objectives, an intended content and a desired message. The resultant brand is then produced and released to what it is an increasingly cynical and knowing marketplace. But what if we were to throw this logical and linear process in reverse – take an abstract mark disconnected from any direct content and bring to it a multitude of meanings never really intended. An example of this is the story of PSR B1919+21. This rather baffling and innocuous number refers to the very first radio pulsar discovered in 1967. Removed from its original role as a diagram of scientific data, many people may recognise it as being the iconic graphic used by English graphic designer Peter Saville for the album cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (1980). Although it graphically depicts the jagged topography of the pulsar soundwave it has been imbued with another meaning altogether – one that captures the melancholic turmoil of a post-punk music movement.


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| Back in 1991 a friend of mine who had no formal design training had found work in the then-burgeoning desktop publishing industry. He then set out to develop his own way of learning about type on the job. When a logo job came in, he scrolled to the top of the font menu and used that font. The next job he worked on used the font under that and so on. The identity set in Aachen would lead to the next being in Abadi MT, Akzidenz Grotesk to American Typewriter, etc. So that in the end each identity was both a learning exercise in using a particular font as well as being subject to a curiously random system.


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| It is widely considered that the ipod popularised the notion of ‘the random’ into the world of music. The advent and popularity of the scroll-down itunes menu has also had the curious effect of alphabeticising the selection of music (when did you ever play a song first because it started with the letter ‘a’ on a record or CD?). In the drive to get to the top of the list will we see contrived track and band names referring to aarvards?


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| Esperanto is often described as a contrived language. Although intended as a universal auxiliary language, it has no cultural or geographic roots.  Nevertheless the language is a powerful source of identity for Esperanto speakers around the world. Not many people realise though that there were two feature films made in Esperanto. One of these films, Incubus (1965), starred a very young William Shatner who had to learn the language in order to gain the role. Having grown up in French-speaking Quebec, Shatner’s Esperanto pronunciation was widely criticised by speakers as having too strong a French accent.


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| Klingonese is of course another fake language. Created by American Linguist Marc Okrand, it is the language spoken by the renown alien race from Star Trek. A dictionary of Klingon was produced in 1985, followed by the formation of the Klingon Language Institute in 1992 in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. Although the Institute claims to have some 2500 members, the actual number of Klingon speakers is difficult to estimate.  One fluent Klingon speaker, Dr. d’Armond Speers, reportedly attempted to raise his child bilingually in English and Klingon. The experiment failed when the child refused to use Klingon when he got older.


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| In Australia there is a chain of bookshops called McGills. You may have even been in one. And you may have seen their corporate identity and thought nothing of it. But it is in fact a rare occurance of an odd phenomena known as Typographic Onomatopoeia. It happens when a typeface is used because its name happens to match the name of the company it represents.  In the case of McGills Bookstore they have chosen the classic Letraset script Gillies. It’s an identity derived from a baffling logic.


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| The creative legacy of English type designer Eric Gill (1882-1940) is of course fundamental to twentieth century typography (his better known faces include Gill Sans, Joanna and Perpetua amongst many others). But history has a habit of recording many lesser-known parallel stories. Gill is perhaps as well known for his liberal sexual attitudes and practices as his expertise in stone cutting and type design. The design of unique glyphs extended from his professional life all the way into the pages of his personal diary. A page from Eric Gill’s diary for the period 16 to 18 July 1925 features a series of marks down the margin of the page. At the bottom of the page is a legend indicating that these marks relate to the physical position adopted during his sexual activity that week. A simple X marks he describes as ‘face to face’. The addition of dots in either quarter of the X mark indicates ‘sideways, generally from back’.


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| A contemporary of Eric Gill, the English type designer Stanley Morison (1889-1967) is most known for his contribution to the design of Times, a typeface specifically designed for the newspaper of the same name. But it almost never happened. When asked by the Manager of The Times, William Lints-Smith whether he would join the paper as a typographic advisor, Morison’s acceptance was conditional, stipulating that he would only take on the job ‘…if you take the full point out after the paper’s name…’. The full point was promptly omitted from The Times masthead and so began a new age of typefaces customised for specific publications.


The format of these vignettes happily and gratefully references Ryan Gander’s Loose Associations.
This article was originally published in Open Manifesto Issue 5.