Design Schools of Thought

Virtual Gallery of Jonathan Barnbrook and Vaughan Oliver


There are two schools of thought in design, perhaps more. One school would be the school of thought would be, well just that — thinking. The other school would be feeling. They have similarities as well as their differences. In this gallery, there are two well-established field designers. Each fit into each of these schools. Jonathan Barnbrook fits nicely in the school of thinking. The other, Vaughan Oliver, known for designing album covers, fits comfortably into the school of feeling.

Head Over Heels, Cocteau Twins.
Head Over Heels, Cocteau Twins.
1983 Vaughan Oliver.

Jonathan Barbook is a graphic designer, typographer, and lecturer from London, England, where his studio is located, similarly Vaughan Oliver's studio is in Epsom, England. They're from different generations of design. Vaughan Oliver is best known for his work from the early to mid 80's for bands like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, The Breeders, This Mortal Coil, and Pixies. His design method was considered experimental at the time especially the cover for Head Over Heels for the Cocteau Twins. The cover, itself, is a misty white, like fog — or ice, but it was actually a tub of water and spray paint with rose petals floating in it. This created a wonderfully ethereal effect that matches the music perfectly.

Barnbrook's work comes from the more contemporary processes of designing. Much of his work had became popular in the early 2000 protesting the war in Iraq, European nobility, and other ‘celebrity’ politicians. This can be seen in much of his private work: such as his Gulf War II series that protested George Bush's visit to London in 2003. Barnbrook believes that as a designer you have an unwritten responsibility to inform the masses, not just “kiss corporate ass.” Jonathan discusses this further in his interview.

Heathen, David Bowie.
Heathen, David Bowie. 2002 Jonathan Barnbrook.

Jonathan and Vaughan both got into graphic design because of album covers. They both felt that a well-designed album cover increases the pleasure of listening to the album. With this piece of information we can see a few things — Barnbrook's cover for David Bowies Heathen is very literal and very well thought out. The music was darker than the usual for Bowie, the title itself is dark, Barnbrook's reaction to the name heathen, which he defined as anti anything, was to put the text itself upside-down on the cover so that the text would be the antithesis of heathen if you will. A perfect fit for the music and the concept. Oliver's albums are more ethereal, they react and resonate with the music, such as the cover mentioned before.

There is no proper way to think about design. The thought process is less important than the message of the final product. Sometimes the method of design helps the message and sometimes it is meant to be invisible to the viewer. As you look through this gallery and thumb through this book, try and imagine the thought processes behind the colors, text, and images. Remember that a fully formed idea never materializes out of thin air.

Cerebral Art

Jonathan Barnbrook's artwork is cerebral. His posters are politically thought provoking and his logos and typefaces are beautifully crafted. I've been known to say his work is ‘over-thought’ and unnecessarily political, but that's not true — nor is it necessarily a bad thing. Everything Barnbrook does has a reason. From the color choice to the thickness of the stoke around that rectangle. For example, consider the corporate identity for Mori Arts Center in Tokyo Japan. The logos themselves are wonderfully elegant to look at, but the reasoning behind them is much more in-depth than most other corporate logos. The lines and colors are a tetrad (minus the grey). They also represent the spectrum of visible light. The waveforms themselves represent the transmission of energy, thought, and information. The waveforms alone are also identities for each subsection of the Center. In addition to his logos, his typefaces connect more than just their form — they connect with Jonathan's environment, childhood, stone carved text, shapes made in architecture, and even just nature itself.

Art for Art's Sake

Pod, The Breeders. Poster.
Pod, The Breeders. 1990 Vaughan Oliver.

Vaughan Oliver's work can be best described as harsh, grungy, and sometimes terrifying, but his work in itself is complete without being complicated. His work is organic and doesn't seem like its concept has been forced. At a RISD lecture I attended, Vaughan told us that, (paraphrasing) one doesn't have to have meaning to one's art. You can make it up after the fact. His work combines a number of design media, from traditional flat design, to photography and all the way around to little tin models. These images create an environment for themselves. For example, the poster image for The Breeders album Pod, the image itself is strange, something in it isn't just right. There's a human figure with — things strapped to it. This figure is Vaughan — alone — with eels strapped to his underwear gyrating in his apartment.

Essay by: Jacob Janson