Icon Essay

April 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Herbert Marshall McLuhan, born in Edmonton, Canada in 1911, was a professor of English, teaching at Saint Louis University and Assumption College (Ontario) until 1944 when he became a philosopher and teacher of communication theory in the 1950s. McLuhan’s reputation grew drastically over these years, being offered many a selection of jobs at various Universities in the United States. In 1963, as an attempt to keep him at the University of Toronto, the Centre of Culture and Technology was created, being made the head of department, where he began presenting the ‘Communication and Culture’ seminars, of which were funded by the Ford Foundation. From 1967, he spent the remainder of his life teaching here. McLuhan’s influences came from the New Criticism movement, the faculty of Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, with major influences arising from Hugh Kenner and Harold Innis, of whom he worked with at the University of Toronto.

McLuhan’s interests lied within structure, utility, function and experimentation within functional environments, displaying great enthusiasm in how technology drives different cultures and their ideas. The core theme running through his work looks upon how technology affects the forms and scale of social organisation and individual lives. He introduced many new ways of looking upon media theory, showing the world how technologies are enabling devices, which extend human ability, as well as predicting the World Wide Web 30 years before it’s creation. McLuhan’s work is considered one of the cornerstones of media theory, contributing largely in this area of work.

McLuhan is most notoriously known for his theory “The medium is the message”; this was one of his many McLuhanisms, as they began to be called. The theory was popularised upon the release of his book ‘The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects’ in 1967, becoming a bestseller.
McLuhan’s perspective was that a medium affects the society in which it acts within not by the content, or information, delivered over the medium, but instead by the features of the medium itself. McLuhan defined a medium (often being new technologies) as any extension of our bodies, minds, or being, though with an extension comes an amputation. For example, the wheel is an extension of the foot, though also amputating its use simultaneously, inhabilitating us from performing it’s original function of walking.
McLuhan forces us to re-analyse what we all know by “medium” and “message”, where “message” can be defined as “information” or “content”, though with this McLuhan believes that one of the most important elements of media is neglected, that their ability to alter the course and ability of human activities and relations. McLuhan appropriately redefines the “message” as any change in pattern, pace, or scale that a medium causes in cultures or societies. This is very evident, specifically in today’s day and age with computer technologies, looking upon the digital age children and the profound effects it’s had on the generation, for better and for worse. Using the Internet as an example, on one hand it’s used as an amazing tool, which is used to extend our knowledge vastly, allowing for an extensive array of things to be learnt that would otherwise be unknown to people. Though on the other hand, there is the largely unproductive, darker, side to the Internet. Here is where people can slip into a cycle of unproductivity, procrastination, and an escape from reality, where individuals often substitute organic human interaction for Internet use and cyber interactivity, using technology to socialise.
With McLuhan’s new definition, “content” becomes a mask for how media interact, working in couples, where one medium holds another (and another within that etc.). E.g. a book contains printed word, which contains writing, containing speech; the contained medium becomes the message for the containing one. There are however two exceptions to media working in doubles, the first being speech – speech contains thought, but the chain of media abruptly ends there as thought is a pure process, and non-verbal. The second single media is the electric light – this light source allows for people to perform activities hat would otherwise not be able in the dark. The activities themselves can be considered the “content” of the light, but the light itself contains no medium.



McLuhan’s second most known theory is that of the “Global Village”:

“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”
– The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962

This theory describes of an interconnection with everything, to an extent where it hypothetically shrinks the world into a village via electronic technologies, allowing for instantaneous movement of data and information from every corner of the globe. In McLuhan’s time, this theory was applied to the telephone, though the emergence of the Internet in the 1990s meant that McLuhan’s theory could once again be seen, and in a big way, this resulted in the revival of McLuhan. The Internet connects people all over the world at an instant, compressing the world where distances from one another feel much smaller, becoming a “global village”.
A sort of smoke signaling effect was apparent; this is amplified by all these broadcast technologies, interrelating the worldwide community.
This theory differs greatly from the extensions of man, which is a seemingly more intimate concept.

Another popular media theory (though not as well known as the previous theories mentioned) is his idea of “hot and “cold” media. In McLuhan’s eyes, all media is classified as “hot” or “cold”; referring to the various sensory effects connected with “high-definition” and “low-definition”, where he adopts the terminology used within television. Like the name would suggest, “high-definition” media are sharp and detailed images and audio, including photographs, movies, lectures, print, letters of the alphabet, and radio, otherwise known as “hot” media as these supply us with large amounts of information, leaving us with little to do as they do the talking, we simply listen.  Furthermore, “Low-definition”, or “cool”, media are forms that are ill defined; these include cartoons & sketches, television, telephone, and speech. With these media we are granted a rather small amount of information in comparison, making us have to investigate what is visible, then fill in the gaps so we can fully understand the media.
McLuhan puts forward the concept of our physical senses and perceptions being associated with media; “cool” media are high in participation where as “hot” media are low. When referring to participation McLuhan isn’t only talking about our intellectual involvement, but instead to how engaged our physical senses are with different mediums.


When creating my Icon book I went through six logical steps to develop it:
1. Look at current Icon books – this would gain me a basic understanding along the lines of what I have to produce, looking upon the style and structure that the books use, the content they hold, and the illustrations that demonstrate theories appropriately.
2. Look at contemporary examples of Icon books, or similar, that illustrates ideas and images in their own style, rather than following the in house design style of the Icon book series.
3. Roughly plan the content of my own Icon book – here I would choose my theorist, apply relevant biographical and historical context, look upon their core theories which I would illustrate accordingly, then choosing what and how I’d illustrate the imagistic qualities of the Icon book.
4. Planning the textual content of the Icon book – for this I used Microsoft Word, this would allow for easy application of text into Adobe InDesign when the designing process began.
5. Reading through the text I’d use, gaining ideas of what kind of images I’d use to represent my theorist and their theories, then actually creating them using photo manipulation techniques.
6. Finalising the Icon book treatment – here I would plan where the images and text would sit within the final document, treating the typography, image size and location, finally exporting the document.


The front page of my Icon book shows Marshall McLuhan’s portrait within an old television screen, abstracted by heavy white noise and television distortion, as well as the SMPTE colour bars test screen which would appear in a previous generation of television broadcasting. This is all a play on the general occupation of McLuhan, being a media theorist, as well as his theory of “The Medium is the Message”, where in this case McLuhan is the message. McLuhan’s name as the title is textured with television noise also, to further the media aspect of his work.

The second and third pages focus on his core theory “The medium is the message”. The second page playfully illustrates McLuhan’s idea of the extensions of man. I display these extensions in a witty literal sense, also displaying how we focus those particular sense and activities toward those mediums. The wheel is an extension of the foot, the computer is an extension to the central nervous system, and the radio is an extension of our ears, where I’ve utilised a portrait of McLuhan in his younger years. The textual image occupying the majority of the third page is another portrait of McLuhan, created using the words “THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE”. I chose to do this to play on the idea of content, mediums within mediums, and so on, by repeating the quote over and over. The cyclist simply illustrates the idea of amputations while an extension is in use; here the cyclist’s legs are occupied by the moving of the bike pedals. To clearly demonstrate this concept I reduced the opacity of the cyclist’s legs so you are able to see straight through them, then adding a stroked red line along the edges of his legs to illustrate them being amputated, or in use, therefore losing the ability to use them for any other function.

Page 4 moves onto the theory of the “Global Village”, the image shows Indians waving a fire emanating from the logo of the Internet browser Firefox that is producing the smoky words “GLOBAL VILLAGE”, with an Earth made from human figures in the background. This is referring to the smoke signaling (being the first form of contact at distances by the Indians) effect that broadcast technologies have, but I use it in a more contemporary context, doing so with the Internet. I use the Firefox logo for the evident reason that it is made of fire, but also that it encircles the Earth in its grasp. The smoke produced from this fire creates the name of the theories’ title.

The final page quite clearly shows the “hot” and “cold” media theory. The name of the theory instantly brings to mind the feelings of hot and cold senses, the result of this brought me to simply showing various hot/high-definition and cool/low-definition media on fire and frozen. The final two images situated at the bottom of the page illustrate high and low definition media, shown by the simple means of a photograph, and a cartoonised sketch of the same photo.

Icon Book

April 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

My Icon book I’ve created for Marshall McLuhan

Click this hyperlink (or any of the below images) to view the PDF version

McLuhan Icon Book McLuhan Icon Book2

McLuhan Icon Book3

McLuhan Icon Book4 McLuhan Icon Book5

Expressive Visualisations

April 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Expressive visualisations of my two theorists / practitioners

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Mind Maps

April 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Mind maps for Marshall McLuhan and William Morris

Click the mindmaps to expand them

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Spencer / Dissertation

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

This morning’s lecture was just answering some general questions about the dissertation stuff.


If my dissertation has a good set of empirical data (such as if I were to have a lot of statistical information), it can be quite tricky to frame it/contextualising it. But you’ve got to be able to frame your topic/question in a way that works for you; depending on the kind of dissertation you’re creating.


Why am I actually writing this? Why is it significant? What’s at stake in the debate? Map the context onto a healthy debate, what are the stakes in the debate, and what’s the significance?
While thinking about my dissertation, project forward and think about what I can project out of it – how can my project work relate to my dissertation? How can I create an interesting project from my research and theory?

Is there going to be an empirical dimension to my dissertation? (Empirical evidence is a source of knowledge acquired by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical evidence is information that justifies a belief in the truth or falsity of an empirical claim)


For the dissertation proposal form:

– (Already structured) 500 words.

– Very loose look at what my dissertation will be.

– What the general topic I’m focusing on is.

– Aims & objectives (to do with what’s at stake).

– Possible content

– Suggested methodologies: is there a particular study I’m going to do, or is it about looking through literature? (I could do a dissertation purely with literature). I must justify and methodologies I use.

– Possible conclusions: any hunches I have (Never embark on research in a sort of carefree manner, always be upfront).

– Where’d I look to find my info: e.g. Google scholar. Things I’d look at: Key theorists/ key perspectives/key texts/key practitioners / key works/ contemporary /current discussion of the topic. Any new research I’d be conducting in relation?

– Any possible problems I may run into?


There’s not really a set structure to the dissertation, all are different, usually containing broad sections/territories. A literature review is usually framed as the general context of the work – key text / key theorists / key works etc. to do with the general topic, also looking upon a contemporary aspect of it.

Think about the angle I’ll be approaching things from: cultural, psychological, philosophical, physiological, economical, environmental perspective etc. There may also be another position I frame my dissertation upon, giving a good overview of the stuff I say, giving it a frame work, then talking about why it’s relevant today (any stakes embodied in it?).


In my literature review, it’s a good idea to try and establish a discipline, framing an argument, and pulling together two slightly different contexts/issues, making novelty in the dissertation, ultimately making it interesting


Separate section for methods/methodologies


Three chapters (or so), stages or phases for an argument, developing a position, trying to focus on one core thing for each chapter, then bringing all these chapters together to bring across my main point.


Visual disciplines – when I’m arguing in terms of design and animation, sometimes I’ll be using logical forms of argument, sometimes being persuasive using imagistic stuff to persuade, alternating between structured argument and persuasive ‘massagy’ stuff.


Structuring of dissertations vary slightly, with ordering of chapters varying.

Always give a good sense of the context at the start.

Always remember that you’ve got to be nice to the reader. Think of a room mate who’s smart but doing a totally different subject to you, you’ve got to explain, helping them understand, not making them feel like an idiot.


Presenting contrast in my work?


Cultural context? (aims and objectives)

Guest Lecture / Spin (Unit Editions)

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Spin  /  Unit Editions


This guest lecture, led by Tony Brook and Klaudia Clat of London based Spin design studio (also Unit Editions publishing), was a lovely insight into the working the design agency, looking upon their work of the creation of various books, with specific focus on Herb Lubalin, and their design ethos.

The lecture was introduced with previous work done by Spin, looking upon their journey, and how they’ve evolved from very little to where they’re at currently. From previously having books and work printed, they were losing out on a fair margin of money, from this they decided to birth Unit Editions, their very own self-publishing company.

Unit Editions book design is led by Spin, with Adrian Shaughnessy writing. The resulting collection of this is thus far pretty strong, comprising of such works including Type Only, which also has it’s own tumblr page; Herb Lubalin, which I’ll talk of; the Spin series editions, of which contain reading lists of designers (many unknown), as well as insight into famous designers work, and general design based stuff, all very handy. Their books are made for graphic designers, by graphic designers.

Tony mentioned the book How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy, which is a must read.

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Spin’s Inspirations
/ Herb Lubalin
/ Karel Martens
/ Neue Grafik – Josef Müller Brockman

When creating their Unit Edition books, they only choose subjects they love, things they want to share that will inform and inspire. Their books have a contemporary edge.

The contents of their Herb Lubalin book was sourced predominantly from the Cooper archive in New York. Much 0f the book’s colour comprises of orange, the source and context of this is from the archived work folders Lubalin would keep his work. When designing books they try to give things as much context as possible, looking at the origin of design (such as in this case), they may look at design colour schemes from designers works, or maybe the context is more subliminal at times, but there is usually some context or idea running behind something. They like to have this idea/connection in their work, for exactly that, the connection between the artist and the book, or the subject; it’s a very important aspect to use.


Your obsessions, passions and interests are what make you a good (or not a good) designer, with no room for apathy in graphic design. Listen to the voices in your head.

They also have a digital publishing of a Wim Crouwel issue of one of their Spin editions.

In their book Studio Culture, which looks upon designers working practice and their motivations.

Peter Norris / Geopolitical Futures

March 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

 Looking at the world in a much wider context!

What is the world?

Wealth is not equal on the planet, the UK is the 5th wealthiest economy in the world – we have lots of things that are taken for granted.

Geopolitical futures are about understanding where we are, and what others don’t have (countries) looking at problems. For example, the Middle East produces the majority of all the oil in the world, and oil has touched us in one way or another, through technology, clothing, electricity etc.

The UK is one of the most densely populated countries in the world; this is because it’s an attractive country, with all its benefits. I have to be aware of all this.


These are the two economies that have great protection; they outnumber us by a massive extent (population). There are different parts of these countries, some very Westernised metropolitan areas, and others more rural. These Westernised areas are very keen on trade, almost too keen, as a result, British designers are highly sought after in these places since they require Westernised lifestyles, and I can supply Westernised design. We know about this part of the world, so they require these skills and influences; I need to consider that beyond these countries borders there are employment opportunities. For example China recently has had a lot of Western workers come over and create for them, with design etc. as the ‘Westernised’ things the Chinese produce are badly produced.

The problem that China is facing is that it’s so incredibly vast, but is run under one state/government that doesn’t change, unlike ours. There are lots of areas of China that want independence (so this is a problem), breaking away from Mainland China. The second problem is social unrest amongst different social classes, wealth is distributed unevenly, in Beijing you can find millionaires and billionaires everywhere, though move 50 miles out of Beijing and you see real abject poverty, there’s a huge difference. This is when social unrest occurs. These factors will ultimately affect the economic structure of the country, but how is this managed? If it’s market opens up some more then it will accept more Western workers, if it closes however it will have the opposite effect.

I need to be aware of the problems that are faced in these countries. These sort of problems and issues need to be recognised.

In the less economically developed areas of Eastern Asia, the cost of living is far cheaper due to the poorer state of the country, where you can live with very little money for quite some time. This is another factor I need to consider, how do I get round this?

Population density > Thomas Malthus (influential in the fields of political economy and demography), having very pessimistic views:

Where there is poverty, with populations in dense groups in close proximity, there’s a problem with illness, pestilence, plague, death, famine, starvation, health issues, where as in this country we have the national health system. Either you can feed all these people, or you let what would subsequently happen, happen. Mathus view was that this is an automatic correction that the weak are sifted out. In the UK we have the National Health Service (NHS), however, before this, such as the outbreak of Spanish influenza and the bubonic plague, you could see how much of the population would be decimated as a result, up to 60/70%! With poorer people not being able to afford some basic hygiene, all living in close proximity, this is when problems arise. Another issue to think about.

Poor / Wealthy – Poor usually are in abundant numbers in comparison, and get unruly, they start to wonder why they have to live in these conditions when there are others with stupid amounts of money, then they get unruly, and begin attempting to take by force. Law enforcement can only go so far to stop this, when numbers get large, then politics comes into play;

Politics = keeping the mob happy. If you can keep them happy, you’ve got control, and no problems.

Flash Points

These are areas in the world that are currently marked as being potentially dangerous

–       The Middle East – ill feeling here (mainly over the setting up of Israel), lots of conflict – wealth, power, and poverty, all of this coupled with different opinions has meant that the area is heavily affected by conflict. This region may become an even worse flashpoint as resources diminish.
Most Middle East countries face these problems and are trying to resolve them before they occur, trying to make the most out of what they’ve got.

–       Crimea (most current) – this is more of an issue related to Russia; they were slowly and manageably coming out of communism, but then everything started going backwards. Part of the problem is that Russia is so big, being made up of lots of smaller states, which are forcibly held together under the control of one centralized government. Russia needs to try and relinquish the control that other countries have, but keeping order at the same time, stopping other people from moving in. With Ukraine, half of it wants to go West, and the other East, but Russia doesn’t want to lose it, Russia is scared, since if it loses Ukraine then what happens to the other neighboring countries? They want independence also, ultimately meaning Russia loses power and control.

–       Georgia and Sochi + terrorism

–       China (which will eventually see the same problems as Russia)


–       Terrorism

–       Poverty (Malthus issues)

–       Pace & Change

–       Lack of Education

–       Market Movements

–       Technology

Terrorism – No longer is it expected that there’ll be massive wars such as the World Wars, but instead localised warfare, and terrorism. This is difficult to find out when and where. The trick is to figure out where and when these affairs are likely to happen. These terrorist actions are a trouble in the East and the West.

Another political issue here in order to prevent terrorism is obtaining information. Freedoms, duties and responsibilities – look at the USA for example with looking at emails etc. to prevent terrorism. People don’t like this however and don’t as it’s breaching their privacy, so this is an issue, it’s a difficult balancing act.

Minor and Major Changes: Major – major changes are where people have to be educated on something, something that’s changed the way people do.

Incredible amounts of money are lost from education, or more lack of education, which is the bigger problem. If people were more educated they wouldn’t be doing half the stuff they’d be doing, they’d first think about it. While simply trying to survive [in certain countries], it’s a quite a lot harder to learn something… This is a massive problem, a key disruptor. If education were available all across the globe, the world would be a much better, and peaceful place.

Pace & Change – People naturally don’t like change, and as we get older, we like it even less; when we get to the age of 65/70, we lose certain proteins that allow us to accept a change (physical problem); this is another issue. My generation on the other hand wants fresh things; it is fonder of change compared to previous generations. Not so long ago laptops and smart phones were quite uncommon to find on students, however now it’s quite the opposite, there’s only a small percentage that don’t have these things!

Market Movements – We know simply from looking at the market collapse that this causes a lot of problems for a lot of people, serious problems.

Technology – Technology can output lots of good things, but anytime something new is invented, there are usually 10 more problems arise; this is the real problem with technology. For example, computers, people and physical problems such as neck and back problems – these problems need to be identified when new technologies are introduced. How’s it going to work? Do we need extra time for this? Can everyone engage in the technology? These things tend to be much more driven by businesses, people who are involved in trade and business.

With all this considered, when I go work or travel abroad, I need to consider all of these flashpoints and disruptors, not engaging with companies that are going to cause a problem or get themselves into trouble. I need to keep in the know, I need to keep an informed and educated decision in projects.

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