Saturday, 14 January 2017

For Design Students

This set of posts and slides has been collected here as a teaching aid for design students. They offer ideas only and should not be quoted in any of your essays. Please check back for any new posts that may be added and will appear at the top of this list.

What is Myth?
By utilising Roland Barthes' semiological model, this online lecture looks at the signs encoded in the world around us by providing an advertisement as an example. Click here for the lecture.

Alice in Quornderland
This post provides a semiological critique of Marlow Food’s Quorn packaging and include a faux pitch for a new marketing campaign. Click here for the original post.

Not So Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy
Here we examine the famous lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck and look at the reasons for its popularity despite the priority given to form over functionality. Click here for the original post.

Walking Through the Mall
Part of a project from 2004 in the Castle Mall in Norwich that looks at the aesthetics of the shopping experience. Click here for the original post.

The Semiotics of Space and the Culture of Design
This guest lecture was given at the Design School at the University of Leeds and looks at how design influences our perception of space. Click here for the abstract of the lecture and here for the slides.

This guest lecture was given at the Canterbury School of Architecture and looks at the architecture and aesthetics of the University of Leeds campus. Click here for the slides.

Not So Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy: Philippe Starck’s Notorious Design

Philippe Starck’s questionable lemon squeezer, known as the Juicy Salif, has been around for over quarter of a century. His own website describes it as “the most controversial lemon-squeezer of the twentieth-century” and states that it is “a topic of conversation as much as a revealer of ourselves and our imagination”. It adds: “And, also, it presses lemons”, however in the 25 year long controversial wake of it being criticised for not actually being able to squeeze lemons, we cannot be sure if this is not an ironic comment. This means the squeezer’s popularity is clearly not based on its utilitarian functionality at all, but on its design. What I’d like to discuss here are the initial aesthetic and affective responses people have to the squeezer, in particular what it reminds them of. To do this I appealed to my Facebook friends and acquaintances over the space of one morning, 10th March 2016.

The first person to respond, said: “I like it because it looks like one of the monsters from War of the Worlds.” Almost everyone who responded agreed, even those who did not like it. I intentionally did not research this connection before beginning the exercise (even though that was also my reaction), as I did not want to influence others, nor find out in advance if this was a common response. Nevertheless, after reading people’s feedback I went online to see what others thought. If you type ‘war of the worlds’ + ‘juicy salif’ into google, you get approximately 14,300 returns and even John Lewis refers to the War of the Worlds Martians in their spec on the squeezer.

So, forget the Juicy Salif’s lack of functionality! People like it because they are connected to it through popular culture: it reminds them of stainless-steel-like invading Martians trapesing across the countryside - or, should I say, across their kitchen. For those whose connection is not from the recent 2005 Tom Cruise film, but is, rather, from the beautiful images on the gatefold LP of Jeff Wayne’s 1978 album (or even one of the older films), this may also be a nostalgic reaction. While cultural objects that are imbued with nostalgia are often criticised for engendering feelings of a harking back to a rose-tinted past or for a lost wholeness, it is a clever device for encoding within design and advertising. This particular retro domestic appliance - this “revealer of ourselves” - not only comes with an appealing aesthetic that would look great in your kitchen, it also brings with it your past - and re-presents it back to you!

Alice in Quornderland - Marketing Campaign

What I will be providing here is a critique of Marlow Food’s Quorn line. It will include my own ideas around a (faux) campaign in regards to marketing the benefits of, and in differentiating, their products post their current “healthy protein” campaign endorsed by Mo Farah. It takes the form of a semiological analysis.

The above packaging (generic across all their Quorn foodstuffs) attempts to compete directly with both meat and other meat-free alternatives, despite the chilled and frozen versions being kept in a separate section in the supermarkets to their meaty cousins. The orange and white Quorn logo appears as a seal that wraps around the product giving it the authority of authentication, while the colour orange has multiple cultural connotations attached to it, but is generally thought of as a bright cheerful colour. It is intentional that Quorn packaging could just as well be selling sausages made of meat. Quorn wants its products to be seen as a healthier equal to their meat equivalent, as can be attested to in some packs having (in green) “healthy protein” on them.

However, I believe Quorn should be selling the ‘wonderful’ and ‘magical’ qualities of the protein, not just marketing it as a healthier equal, but being more honest about what mycoprotein is (it’s a fungi), and advertising the incredibly clever and ecological manufacturing method. The food is grown vertically and takes up little horizontal space of which there is a shortage in farming practices. It also grows very quickly and uses less resources than common methods. My suggestion is that it be branded using the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland aesthetic.

The famous black and white line drawings in the Alice books are by Lewis Carroll himself and represent the magical world of Alice’s adventures. In the part of the story represented above, Alice meets the hookah-smoking caterpillar who gives her advice on eating the mushroom (in summary, one side makes you grow taller and the other shorter). Alice, also gives the caterpillar advice in respect to him eventually turning into a butterfly. These both refer to not only change, but metamorphosis: Quorn is transformative. The metamorphosis motif can be directly tied into selling both the healthy benefits of Quorn and also how it is made.

The new 'Alice in Quornderland' packaging: the black and white line-drawing aesthetic distinguishes the brand from its competition, making it stand out and presenting it as extraordinary and progressive.

The new 'Alice in Quornderland' advert: The ‘Advice From a Caterpillar’ chapter ends with Alice exclaiming that she must “get back into the beautiful garden”, which ties the brand back to nature, health and vitality. In the advert, after her discussion with the caterpillar about the benefits of Quorn, Alice returns to the ‘beautiful garden’.

The new strapline: Transform your meals, transform yourself!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Red by Mark Bagley

This is what Mark Bagley says about his new film:

The motorways, which traverse the Glatt valley near Zurich in Switzerland, are omnipresent. They act like bloodvessels in the body of the valley, hence the title of the film. The never ending stream of cars - like blood cells - and its permanent acoustic noise is a fellow stroller on one’s derive through the once quiet and paludinous grounds. The river Glatt itself is invisible. Hidden behind trees, under motorway bridges, straightened to a canal, deprived from its former freedom, forced into an artificial river bed.

Click here to watch the film in full: The Red

Friday, 30 December 2016

Myth Today: Truth and Triumph in a Trump World

Figure 1: Truth/Trump

“What is a myth, today” Roland Barthes asks in the opening line to his essay ‘Myth Today’ (2000: 109). Writing in the 1950s it seems questionable that he could have foreseen a presidential election result like that of the United States of America on 9 November 2016, however his essay presents us with its possibility in regards to how language operates: neatly explained in Barthes’ own second level of connotation, the myth: “myth is a type of speech” he answers (ibid.). For those studying the speech act, Donald Trump’s win has provided much food for thought in regards to truth (and reality), and the election campaign has renewed interest in the concept of post-truth, even spawning its own hashtag: #post-truth.

As for the election win itself, not that we can separate the win from the speech acts, in ‘Dominici, or the Triumph of Literature’ Barthes discusses the problems in regards to the lack of a commonality in a shared language when it comes to hierarchy. Reporting on the murder trial of Gaston Dominic in 1952, Barthes explains the difference between those in power (in this case the Presiding Judge), and ‘the other’ (the accused), when it comes to language (2000: 43-44). He also lists some of the ad hominem terms that were used in the trial to describe the accused and explains that this is how language triumphs in a system of inequality: “this ‘universal’ language comes just at the right time to lend a new strength to the psychology of the masters: it allows it always to take other men as objects, to describe and condemn at one stroke” (2000: 45).

Trump’s language has been thoroughly analysed in the media and in academic texts, well before the few months leading up to the election. I do not plan to include a discourse analysis of what he has said, since this has been well-covered elsewhere. What I would like to do is open a discussion on the idea of truth, as it sits within Barthes concept of myth, in an attempt to understand how the denigrating language Trump used towards particular groups had little negative effect on his popularity, nor the outcome of the election. To pick just three examples, Trump is well-quoted for his pride in “grabbing women by the pussy” (Fishwick 2016), for accusing Mexican immigrants of “bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists” (Neate 2015), and for his anti-Muslim/anti-immigration sentiment: "I'm putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they're going back" (Basu 2015).

Figure 2: Roland Barthes' Semiological Structure of the Myth

Explaining how the sign on the denotative level of signification (language) becomes the signifier on the connotative level (myth) (2000: 115), Barthes states that myth “is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utter its message…Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent, existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is no law, whether natural or not, which forbids talking about things” (2000: 109). Trump’s speech acts have been dispersed and devoured through what Barthes calls “a type of social usage” (ibid.) and I believe that what at one time we found unacceptable, is being given currency at a time when some groups in society feel that they have been failed by the government over a protracted time. Upon repeated use these messages become normalised, they become “filled with a situation” (Barthes 2000: 119). If today we look at the title ‘President-elect Trump’ as a sign, we cannot now separate this phrase from what he said, or from his triumphant win. This is what makes up the concept of the sign, it “reconstitutes a chain of causes and effects, motives and intentions” (ibid.). Value has been attached to what Trump said by some quarters (seemingly, mostly, the disenfranchised white working class), because, despite the content of his rhetoric he still won. This means the myth has been legitimised:
Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being a perpetual alibi: it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an 'elsewhere' at its disposal. The meaning is always there to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning. And there never is any contradiction, conflict, or split between the meaning and the form: they are never at the same place (Barthes 2000: 123).
What I think many of us were amazed by was Trump’s blatant use of sexist and racist descriptors (what is known as “unapologetic racism”). He made no attempt to conceal the way he felt about his particular minority group du jour. Not only did he have a complete disregard to political correctness, but also felt no compunction in openly speaking his mind without the use of ‘filters’. He attached no importance to what is known as “preference falsification” (Timur Kuran): the act of not saying what you really think due to social pressure. This has the function of giving...
racists new heart by suggesting that many more people share their beliefs than they might hitherto have believed. Trump’s electoral success tells them that at the least racism is not a politically disqualifying problem for presidential candidates any more, and that perhaps for many voters it is a plus rather than a minus. Second, it tells them that if they themselves publicly express their racism, they are less likely to be socially punished than they previously believed (Farrell 2016).
It is in this way that the myth becomes codified: “the fundamental character of the mythical concept is to be appropriated” (Barthes 2000: 119). What Barthes means here, though, is how the first level of the sign is taken up into the second level, thus turning it into myth. However, it is also this shift that puts it into circulation and brings it to light: the myth does not conceal anything, rather “its function is to distort, not to make disappear” (2000: 121). The myth, once promulgated, becomes personalised by those who take it up and support Trump. They see themselves as the victim in a dynamic which can conveniently create a scapegoat of any number of minority groups. The supporters of Trump recognise themselves in the myth presented to them: “it is I whom it has come to seek. It is turned towards me, I am subjected to its intentional force” (Barthes 2000: 124).

Figure 3: What Did Trump Say? What Words Are Associated With Him?

Barthes explains how this works in a similar way to how Louis Althusser describes interpellation: “it comes and seeks me out in order to oblige me to acknowledge the body of intentions which have motivated it and arranged it there as the signal of an individual history, as a confidence and complicity: it is a real call” (2000: 125). The Trump supporter has recognised the call and is interpellated as subject to the cause. The message is received as a kind of obviousness, presented as the natural order of things: “A conjuring trick has taken place; it has turned reality inside out, it has emptied it of history and has filled it with nature” (2000: 142).

In regards to what most of us would see as lies from Trump, for the myth this is not quite the whole story: “Myth hides nothing and flaunts nothing: it distorts; myth is neither lie nor a confession: it is an inflexion” (Barthes 2000: 129). Barthes sees the myth as a type of “compromise” that has the ability to escape any kind of linguistic contradiction that could result from its exposure, any attempt to “liquidate the concept” will simply “naturalize it” (2000: 125). Myth “transforms history into nature” (ibid.) and we know this is how it operates as history is our evidence of this, because myth “is not read as a motive, but as a reason” (ibid.). Barthes goes on to explain that it does not even matter if later on people realise that something is a myth, because “its action is assumed to be stronger than the rational explanations which may later belie it” (2000: 130) and we saw this when female Trump supporters were interviewed about his sexist comments: most did not change their minds about supporting him. Nevertheless what is important to remember is that “We are all potential Dominicis”, even those who voted for Trump, because we can all be “deprived of language, or worse, rigged out in that of our accusers, humiliated and condemned by it. To rob a man of his language in the very name of language: this is the first step in all legal murders” (2000: 46).

Donald Trump won the election because of what he said, not despite it – this much is true. For those that voted for him, and for his other supporters and soon-to-be presidential ‘team’, the content of Trump’s speech-acts operated on them through connotation, the second-level of semiology, the myth. Trump utilised the myth to set himself up as the cult leader par excellence. His self-appointed place as saviour of the side-lined has made him a ‘perfect’ leader in a post-truth world.

Barthes, Roland. 2000. Mythologies, trans. by Annette Lavers (London: Vintage).
Basu, Tanya, ‘Trump Says He’ll Send Refugees back to Syria if Elected’, Time, (30 September 2015), <> [accessed 23 November 2016]
Farrell, Henry, ‘Trump’s Election Has Undermined ‘Political Correctness’. That Might Actually Be a Problem’, The Washington Post, (19 November 2016), [accessed 23 November 2016]
Fishwick, Carmen, ‘Can You Be a Feminist and Vote for Donald Trump? Yes You Can’, The Guardian, (17 November 2016), [accessed 21 November 2016]
Neate, Rupert, ‘Donald Trump Doubles Down on Mexico ‘rapists’ Comment Despite Outrage’, The Guardian, (2 July 2015), [accessed 21 November 2016]

Image Credits:
1 Designed by the author.

2 Created by the author based on Roland Barthes own model in Myth Today.
3 Compiled and designed by the author.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

South by Merlin Coverley

From the beaches of Tahiti to the streets of Buenos Aires, from Naples to New Orleans, Merlin Coverley’s wide-ranging study throws light on the ways in which the idea of the South, in all its forms, has come to exert such a powerful hold on our collective imagination (from the cover of South).

Coverley tackles this vast subject eloquently, breaking his book into six chapter (The Idea of South, Goethe’s Law, In the South Seas, Magic South, The Polar South and South of the River), in order to examine the concept of the South from a philosophical, geographical, cultural and literary perspective so as to demonstrate the complexity and fascination it holds for us. I shall be writing about ‘The Idea of the South’ (the introduction) and ‘South of the River’ here.

The Idea of the South

Being a cultural theorist the concept of ‘the south’ is particularly interesting to me (as are the other points of the compass, since they are often set in binaries and have values attached to them when set in opposition – for example the North/South divide in Britain). Coverley begins the introduction by showing us a 17th century map of the south pole and then describes the work by the artist Andy Goldsworthy entitled Touching North (1989) (see below). Touching North was situated at the North Pole, with the four individual parts of the sculpture facing each other and also outwards, with holes in the centre providing them with an opening which enabled them a space accessible from anywhere and everywhere. Coverley says that the sculpture “demonstrates how the directions of the compass may effectively be rendered meaningless: emerge through any of the four arches and one finds oneself heading south” (page 9). Thus Coverley launches the reader into the ambiguity of the term ‘south’ and in the introduction begins to explain how it developed.

South of the River

Having spent most of my working life in London the idea of north and south of the Thames means something for me, especially since I worked and lived only in the north of London during my time there. Coverley begins the final chapter by discussing Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children (1991) and how the protagonists live on “the bastard side of Old Father Thames” (Angela Carter), in other words ‘the south’. Coverley explains that he has lived in south London on and off for about twenty years and notes that this division is now “less distinct, as the process of gentrification refashions the city into the one we inhabit today” (page 224). I must say, this was also my experience. Having moved to London in the mid-1980s (at the beginning of the property boom) and having left in 2002, there was certainly a smoothing out in regards to what was considered, when I first arrived, to be “broad concentrations of wealth and power in the North at odds with the poverty and lack of political representation to be found in the South” (page 224). The urban development and rising property value throughout the capital during the time I was living there, eventually made this distinction redundant.

Coverley also mentions one of my favourite books about London Soft City (Jonathan Raban 1974) and quotes Raban talking about how when one lives in the north of London, visiting someone in the south can seem like a real trek when it involves crossing the river. So this is about the perception of the distance – broken by the river as a boundary - rather than the actual mileage.

Coverley’s latest book will have a wide appeal. I’ve only included a few of my own observations here (this is not a proper book review), but in the rest of the book he examines imaginary places such as Atlantis and books like Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and the concept of ‘the noble savage’ to the works of Iain Sinclair (let’s not forget Coverley is a psychogeographer).

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Tina Richardson - Publications

Books and Book Chapters
‘Psy(co)motion: Anti-Production and Détournement in Affective Musical Cartographies' (Bloomsbury Academic) Non-representational Theory and the Creative Arts, eds. Candice Boyd and Christian Edwardes [upcoming book chapter]
Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. Editor: Tina Richardson (London: Rowman and Littlefield International) 2015.

Academic Journal Articles
‘Hiding the Bodies: Land Procurement and Socio-Geographic Repression in Higher Educational Space’, Space and Culture [upcoming journal article]
A Schizocartography of the University of Leeds: Cognitively Mapping the Campus’, disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, 23, 1 (2014), 140-162.
'A Schizocartography of a Redbrick', Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, 1, 1 (2011), 119-128.
'Using Schizocartography as a Method of Critiquing the 'University of Excellence'', Reimagining the University, 1, 1 (2011), 12-21.
'Book Review: Urban Space as a Medium for Democracy', Parallax, 17, 3 (2011), 113-115. 'Introducing Schizocartography: Challenging Anti-Production - Schizocartography as Method and Practice', Society of Cartographers Bulletin, 44 (2010), 31-38.

Academic Editorships
Editor: Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. London: Rowman and Littlefield International (2015).
Co-editor: Parallax: Contours of Learning: On Spivak (Taylor and Francis), Volume 17, Issue 3 (2011)
Co-editor: Parallax: Enthusiasm (Taylor and Francis), Volume 17, Issue 2 (2011).
Associate editor: Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 (2011).
Associate editor: Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 3 (2011).

PhD Thesis
'The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of the Redbrick University Campus' (2014 University of Leeds)

Arts and Culture Publications
‘Heterotopias of Compensation: Travis Elborough’s A Walk in the Park’, Driftmine, July 2016.
‘Setting Up a World: Phenomenology and Cultural Amnesia in General Orders No.9’, Driftmine, May 2016.
‘Interview: A Psychogeography Bucket List’, Stepz: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine, (Particulations Press).
‘When is a Ley Line not a Ley Line? When it is a Perambulatory Hinge’, Driftmine, June 2015.
‘Interview: A Psychogeography Bucket List’, Foxhole Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015, 54-57. Concrete, Crows and Calluses 2013 (Leeds: Particulations Press)
'Kirkstall Valley Sub-Dub or the Prozac Walk' and 'The Cootie-Catcher Dérive or A Walk With Some Really Interesting Dutch Chaps', [Psychogeographic Field Reports] (January 2012).
[please note is now closed, but all my articles and book/film reviews that were published on that site can be accessed in full here]

Arts and Culture Editorships
Co-editor: Stepz II: Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard, Exhibition Edition (Summer 2016). Editor: TwentySix Psychogeography Stations. Darrant Hinisco. Leeds: Urban Gerbil Publications (2015).
Editor: Stepz I: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine, Pilot Edition (Summer 2015).