Under a Tenner
December 2004
Design Museum

The Design Museum (London) asked us to contribute to Under a Tenner, a group show that took place from 3 December, 2004, to 27 February, 2005. For this exhibition, a group of 15 designers (including us) were asked to nominate ten examples each of what they believed to be good design, with none of the items costing more than 10 pounds. The chosen products were exhibited at the museum, alongside some short written motivations.

Shown here are some pictures of the exhibition. Please note that we weren't responsible for the design of the exhibition, or the graphic design of it. We can only take credit for the selection of the ten items.
As for the selection, we didn't really have a thought-out plan about what to show; as always, we didn't have much time. What we did try was to select some items that would illustrate our interest in the 'thingness' of graphic design. As we wrote in the introduction to our selection:

"Usually we're quite systematic, but for some reason the collection of items we've selected is far from systematic; if we had to narrow it down to one underlying theme, it would be our interest in the idea of design as paraphernalia: the designed object as an artefact, as a materialised idea, as a container that carries its own meaning."

As for the motivations that we wrote: since the amount of words that we were permitted to use was limited, the texts are quite short. But we still hope they make clear what we like about the items. Here are the texts:
geo natgeo weekly
Geometry Set Square
Originally manufactured by Aristo, now produced by companies such as Linex and Rotring, the geometry set square is a triad of plastic sharpness, hard transparency and pure unbreakability. Pythagoras said that "there is music in the spacing of the spheres, and there is geometry in the humming of strings". If this is so, the geometry set square is the oversized plectrum to pick these strings.

National Geographic
The iconic yellow frame is literally a window on the world, and what a consistently well-designed window it is. There is something about this magazine that makes us incredibly happy. Maybe it's the the radical absence of bitterness and sarcasm, or just the bright yellow frame, which, in all its emptiness and transparency, seems to be constantly opening the horizon of change.

Amsterdam Weekly
You cannot get much lower under a tenner than completely free, and that is exactly what this weekly city guide is: completely free, while maintaining very high design standards at the same time. Launched in March 2004, and basically a spin-off of U.S. alternative newspaper The Chicago Reader, Amsterdam Weekly is impeccably designed by Danny Calvi and available from coffeehouses and bookstores all over Amsterdam.
wire tree freud
The Wire
Zappa once defined rock journalism as "people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read". Wire is the happy exception. Beautifully designed by Non-Format, Wire is a monthly music magazine that is intelligent, inspirational and thoroughly honest. In both design and content, the reader is taken seriously, without a trace of cynicism. It leaves one wondering why most graphic design criticism seems so bitter in comparison.

Magic Tree Car Air Freshener
From Yggdrasil, the Nordic World Tree, to the Tree of Wisdom situated in the Garden of Eden; and from Native-American totem poles to decorated Christmas trees: the cult of tree worship goes back to prehistoric times, and runs through all religions and cultures. That makes the Magic Tree such a beautiful concept: in every car, a pagan idol. Paradise by the dashboard light.

What's on a man's mind?
A portrait of Freud. A classic optical joke. The famous rhetorical question. Printed on a dark blue t-shirt produced by Fruit of the Loom. Sold as a cheap souvenir in the Red Light District of Amsterdam. This is where modern thought, commodity culture and psycho-analysis clash in a cloud of soft cotton and grey ink.
tel helvetica cd
Three Telephone Cards
Cards we designed for KPN (Dutch Telecommunication Group) to commemorate 150 years of KNMI (Dutch Meteorological Institute). Three sentences by Dutch poets were meteorologically translated, by reciting the words while measuring the temperature of breath using high-sensitive thermometers. So how cheap is it to show your own designs at an exhibition like this? The answer is simple: under a tenner.

Letraset Transfer Lettering Sheet / Helvetica Medium
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy once said that "mathematically harmonious shapes, executed precisely, are filled with emotional quality", and in our opinion there's nothing more emotionally charged than a perfectly spaced field of Helvetica, here shown as a set of numerals on a Letraset sheet.
Helvetica is often seen as being too 'corporate', which is nonsense: logos of big corporations are often not set in Helvetica, but in type that imitates handwriting (Coca Cola, Walt Disney). It is the falseness of the 'personal signature' that is the real mark of corporate culture, not the honest, constructed beauty of Helvetica.

Public Image Ltd. / Compact Disc
Released in 1986, art directed by John Lydon, and respectively entitled 'Album', 'Cassette', 'Compact Disc', '12" Single', 'Single' and 'Video', this is a school example of high-concept pop packaging. Referring to supermarket branding, it's a stunning portrait of the CD as a product.
Self-referentiality is often seen as postmodern irony. In our view, it can very well be a modernist gesture, because of the transparency that goes with it. After all, this item is precisely what it says it is: a compact disc. No strings attached.
Fed-Ex Box / Large
The last item we want to show is the box which we used to ship the other nine items. The Fed-Ex logo (designed in 1994 by Landor Associates) is particularly interesting, mainly because of the arrow hidden in the negative spaces between the letters. This turns the Fed-Ex logo into a stunning tale of positivity and negativity, of being and nothingness. Heidegger said that "the nothing nothings"; in the Fed-Ex logo, the arrow arrows.

Thanks to Alice Rawsthorn and Sophie McKinlay for inviting us.

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Contributions, Exhibitions

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