John Morgan studio

Vault 6, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA

+44 (0)20 7240 1611   info (at)



John Morgan studio was founded in 2000 and has become one of the leading design practices in the UK. The studio has developed a particular international reputation for close working relationships with artists, architects and cultural institutions. Recent projects include: the design of wayfinding and signage for Tate Britain; art direction of ArtReview magazine; prayer book design for the Church of England; and graphic identity and ongoing consultancy for David Chipperfield Architects, Raven Row gallery, 6a architects and Four Corners Books.

Uniquely the practice has been nominated for the Design Museum Designs of the Year award for three consecutive years: in 2011 for the Four Corners Familiars series; in 2012 for AA Files, the Architectural Association’s journal of record; and in 2013 for the graphic identity and campaign for the Venice Architecture Biennale: Common Ground, the winner of the graphic design category award.

Since 2016 John has been Professor of Entwurf, Typografie and Buchkunst at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. 


See the studio profile ‘Devil in the detail’ in Eye magazine for an introductory text about the practice.

1995–2000 Omnific studio, London, with Derek Birdsall. Poster we made of Bruce Bernard's photograph of Leigh Bowary, and Derek's 1968 Pirelli calendar design.

1995–2000 Omnific studio

2002 Workplace Co-operative 115, Kentish Town, London

2003 Kentish Town studio

2004 Long Street studio, Hackney

2006–15 Platform 1, Paddington Station

2015– Somerset House

John Morgan studied Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading from 1991 to 1995. He worked with Derek Birdsall at Omnific from 1995 to 2000, finishing with the Common Worship series of prayer books for the Church of England. He then established Workplace Cooperative 115 with Robin Kinross, a multi-disciplinary space in Kentish Town, London.

Morgan’s eponymous studio practice was formed in 2000. Studio projects include: graphic identities for David Chipperfield Architects, the City of Ljubljana and London’s Raven Row gallery; art direction of ArtReview magazine; public art projects for the BBC; and the design of a wayfinding and signage scheme for Tate Britain.

His studio won the graphic design category in the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year 2013 for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2012. He was also nominated in 2012 for AA Files, the Architectural Association’s journal of record, and in 2011 for the Four Corners Familiars series, a re-imagining of classic books. He has written for a number of journals including Typography Papers and Dot Dot Dot, and has taught in various European design schools, among them the University of Reading, Central Saint Martins, London, ECAL, Lausanne, the École des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and has been external examiner at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam. In 2011 he was elected a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), a professional body comprising the world’s leading designers.

Since 2016 John has been Professor of Entwurf, Typografie and Buchkunst at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.


The studio grows and contracts depending on particular projects.
The current core team comprises:

Adrien Vasquez, born Grenoble, France
Florence Meunier, born Paris, France




We are unable to reply to all emails. We occasionally take on interns, and will be arranging a regular programme in the future. In the meantime please email with requests to this address:

intern (at)

Selected texts about John Morgan studio

Click entry to expand texts

Billie Muraben, ‘An Exercise in Style’, It's Nice That, July (2016)

As we ascend the stairs from his subterranean studio, our conversation turns to the subject of design writers. “Are there any? And if there are, why?” A point of contention is, if they do exist, “can [they] write about a subject other than design in an interesting way, and is there not someone else who could do it better?” This emphasis on quality is an important one, and something that defines the often indefinable work of John Morgan Studio.

Founded in 2000, the studio has and continues to work with renowned artists, architects and cultural institutions including Four Corners Books, David Chipperfield Architects, Art Reviewand Tate Britain. A recent project is Pierre’s, the inaugural issue of New York’s The Artist’s Institute magazine. The principle of The Magazine is to take each season at the institute as a point of departure for journalism, fiction, interviews and visual projects to be developed around the work of the exhibiting artist. This season it’s Pierre Huyghe and the issue features topics including science fiction and philosophy, alongside fake adverts designed by John’s newly formed and slightly fictitious London/NewYork agency Vault Six. Another recent project was their review of the signage and wayfinding at Tate Britain. The studio designed a new display typeface; a scheme for the templates of maps, menus, banners and posters; captions, maps and threshold dates cast in metal and sign-painted onto the walls and floor. In the synopsis of the project the process was described as “reducing the presence of signs and promotional material to an ‘essential only’ state…. the requirements for a gallery like this [mean] the signage could be less present and more dignified”.


Read more at It’s Nice That.

Wallpaper’s 20 best graphic designers (2015)

To coincide with Wallpaper’s landmark 200th issue, we’ve expanded our Power 100 list of the design world’s superlative talents into a definitive (you've guessed it) Power 200. Running parallel to our main list – of the world’s finest furniture and product designers – we’ve curated shorter selections of the best young practitioners, interior designers, architects, influencers and, here, graphic designers – the pioneering creatives that don't just revert to type.

It’s hard to understate the pervading influence of our choices – from John Morgan and Peter Miles (culture and fashion's go-to art directors, respectively), to agency behemoths like Fabien Baron, graphic iconoclast Stefan Sagmeister, M/M Paris, Pentagram partner Paula Scher, North’s Sean Perkins and Graphic Thought Facility – even when these practitioners tend to remain relatively anonymous compared to those working in other (glitzier) design disciplines.


Read more at Wallpaper.

John L. Walters, ‘Devil in the detail’ in Eye, 83, vol.21 (2012), pp.38–49

Careful, even-tempered typographer by day – wild art director by night? For John Morgan, both the typographic detailing and the grand gestures are essential to each project’s unique ‘atmosphere’. By John L. Walters. Portrait by Blommers & Schumm

John Morgan has branded a city and typeset the words of God. He has set poetry in granite and written a brand book (for David Chipperfield Architects) that begins: ‘The first guideline is to work with a good designer.’ He designs books that are beautiful and desirable objects, good to hold and own and use, yet most of his time is spent thinking about the meaning of words and of characters and the spaces in between. He once took a graphic design vow of chastity (‘The designer must not be credited’), yet his work is wide-ranging and polymorphous, adding dignity to books and business cards, bringing gravitas to criticism in academic journals and fine art captions. 

For those of us immersed in a world of unsubtle, overwrought design, Morgan’s work can be so subtle and understated that it catches you out. Look at his design for Drawing the Curtain: The Cold War in Cartoons (Fontanka, 2012). It’s not just the typography that makes this big book so inviting, it’s the way the images have been paced and ordered to support the authors’ ideas and intentions. Also, it’s the way the book feels in your hands, the way the pages turn and lie flat while you are reading text or examining the pictures. Morgan’s design is there at your side while you read the book, helping you to enjoy every aspect of its contents, but performing this role so skilfully that you almost forget he’s there. 

Look, too, at, his minimal website for 6a architects (a vertically scrolling selection of images whose seriffed captions appear when the user mouses over the frame), or the simplicity of his design for Things 19-20, whose monastic greyness, wrapped in a yellow cover, stands out in a jungle of text heavy journals as both serious and readable. 

For Morgan, the devil is in the detail, typographic or otherwise: ‘There’s rarely an archetypal design solution,’ he says. ‘I do think I could redesign something for ever, and often do.’ Every choice, he explains with a long sigh, is so loaded: ‘I want a typeface which is of my time, which is relevant now, but I want to design for the long term. And even an ephemeral thing can stay around for the long term!’ 

But there’s a wilder side to Morgan you see in his work for Raven Row gallery and Ambit magazine – the deliberate artlessness of his vernacular signs, the translucent pink plastic cover for The Jet Age Compendium: Paolozzi at Ambit, and the way he cheerfully plonks smudgy scans of book and magazine pages alongside his own typography in AA Files and the eccentric Four Corners Books edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Could there be an almost gothic, Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde element to Morgan’s design practice: serious Reading-trained book typographer by day / wild art director by night? 

Morgan sees the two sides as completely complementary, both in his work as a graphic designer, and in his approach to teaching. 

‘There was a period when I taught at Central Saint Martins (CSM) and the University of Reading at the same time, and I saw my role and position as opposites. But you respond to the environment and see what’s needed. The CSM students were well looked after in grand gestures, so I taught detailed telephone directory layout. At Reading, there wasn’t much (dare I say it?) “atmosphere”, so I pointed the students in that direction. Horses for courses. 

‘I like students to be able to produce the detail of Jan Tschichold or Hans Schmoller [Tschichold’s successor at Penguin] combined with the overview of books or posters by [German artists] Martin Kippenberger or Hans-Peter Feldmann.’ 

Morgan says he has learnt much from working with architects, particularly Chipperfield, and the scale at which they operate: ‘For large-scale projects such as signage or identities where you are working with many people, you have to accept a degree of what David Chipperfield would call “critical compliance”. You cannot control every detail, so you become a consultant – sometimes even to your own studio.’ 

Chipperfield, by contrast, values the fact that Morgan’s team is small. ‘In my business … to put a building together I need fifteen people,’ he says during a phone interview. ‘But there are “surgical” moments, when someone has to give direction, to clarify the proposition. When you work with John you’re working with John – there is no substitute. What he does is very precise.’ 

Morgan frets about the content, the validity of producing many of the projects he is asked to do. Does anyone need large photobooks any more? What is the relevance of large art catalogues when it is easier to search online? Morgan’s designs for Phillips de Pury answer this question well; his subtle catalogue design gives the auction house a critical edge in a difficult marketplace. 

Are all these art gallery signs really necessary when the reception desk and shop are perfectly visible and readable without superfluous typography? ‘You can argue yourself out of a job,’ he says with a grimace. 

In our first conversation for this article, in a café near his London studio, the matter most pressing on Morgan’s mind is the correct word to describe the totality of a piece of typographic work. Could that word really be ‘atmosphere’? He can’t help returning to that troublesome term throughout our conversation. Morgan works with artists, architects and curators all the time, people who work with expansive, expensive-sounding phrases. 

‘[Swiss architect] Peter Zumthor doesn’t hesitate to use a word like “atmosphere”,’ he says. ‘Atmosphere is a problematic and woolly word, but it’s the best description of what I aim for in my work. It’s the sensation you find when you walk into a building or space and it changes the way you feel. 

‘It’s hard to define what gives a book atmosphere, because it can be found in unexpected places, and many books by caring, attentive designers lack it, but you know it when you see it or feel it.’ 

Whatever it is called, Morgan first learnt to appreciate this elusive element while working for Derek Birdsall’s Omnific studio: ‘It’s the difference between something being good and really great. You need a certain sensibility to achieve that. At Omnific we’d work on a job forever, get all the details right, and then Derek would do one little beautiful thing. As long as the rest is done well, it’s that thing that makes it special.’ 

Morgan (born 1973) grew up in a small Lancashire village. His father was an academic, a biochemist with an enthusiasm for stationery. While there were few art or design books around (apart from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing), he remembers home life as ‘open and critical’. 

‘My father’s way of thinking was extremely lateral. When I was a student he sent me a letter every week addressed in a different typeface (with full type history credit line),’ says Morgan. 

Looking back, he feels fortunate to have stumbled upon the Typography and Graphic Communication course at Reading. This was very academic, with an extensive reading list and a defined syllabus of history and theory. In this it was quite different, he says, from other UK graphic design courses, especially the ones that kept strong ties to the art schools that spawned them. 

‘In the formation of the department [in the 1980s], Michael Twyman made a conscious decision to split graphic design and communication away from art. All of us had girlfriends in the art department, but otherwise there was no crossover. We’d be so envious. I’d go over to the art department to see Claire [Morgan’s girlfriend, now wife] and the students would be sitting, smoking, painting, while we’d be working like crazy to a deadline … 

‘All those contrasts were quite extreme. We learnt about micro typography and history, the things that could actually be taught.’ 

His teachers included Twyman, who gave lectures on theory; former St Bride librarian James Mosley, who taught the history of letterforms every Saturday morning; and, most importantly, the late Paul Stiff, whom he calls ‘a great mind’. 

‘You’d get really severe, useful criticism from Paul,’ Morgan recalls. ‘He described one of my student projects as looking “like an in-flight meal”. ’

‘It was partly through Paul that I was invited back to teach,’ says Morgan, who has taught part-time (at Reading and CSM) for the past decade. 

The other central figure in Morgan’s early education was Birdsall (see Eye no.9, vol.3), who took him on after he graduated in 1995. After visiting other studios full of computers and carpet tiles, Birdsall’s scaled-down Omnific in Islington was ‘a student’s idea of what a studio was’, with a PMT [photomechanical transfer] machine and a giant lightbox. ‘It felt like an atelier,’ says Morgan, ‘which for me at the time was an important thing.’ 

At Omnific, he was introduced to ‘all the things that Derek does well’, including long lunches with clients, and grappa. ‘We still all worked incredibly hard,’ he says. ‘Derek might have an afternoon nap and would wake up ready to go again at six o’clock! 

‘We’d work late and eat late and drink late but the balance was good … I remember laying out the Lucian Freud catalogue raisonné with Frank Auerbach, Bruce Bernard, Freud, Derek and me (saying nothing, wisely), just laying out the book. There was a good culture there, one that was much broader than anything I’d encountered at Reading.’ 

When Morgan left Omnific in 2000 to set up John Morgan studio, a third influence loomed large in his life: that of Hyphen Press publisher, Robin Kinross. Along with architects Dan Monck and Duncan Kramer of Material, they were co-founders of Workplace Co-operative 115, the multipleoccupancy building in Kentish Town. Over time this address has been shared by many different designers, including Peter Brawne and Dot Dot Dot co-founder Stuart Bailey. 

Two of Morgan’s early clients came directly (with Birdsall’s blessing) from Omnific: Ambit and the Church of England. With regard to Common Worship, the Anglican prayer book, Morgan explains that when he and Birdsall presented their sample layouts to Church House Publishing in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey in 1999, an important part of their proposal was the combination of ‘an experienced designer in his sixties and an assistant in his twenties who could develop the series’. By 1 January 2001, when the first edition was published, Morgan was well versed in the way the prayer books were put together and the mechanics of managing a production process with several editors and fourteen proofreaders. 

His early work included a couple of books for Booth-Clibborn Editions, exhibition graphics (‘Saul Bass’ at the Design Museum) and catalogues. His first assistant was Sven Herzog, and Michael Evidon, who had been a student of his at St Martins, joined in 2004. Morgan left 115 for Hackney the same year, and in November 2006 moved to his present office, a multiple-use building in Paddington station with its entrance opening on to platform one. By this time Morgan and his wife Claire had moved their young family (Rudy, Francis and Iris) to Oxfordshire. The Paddington location, he says, is a design solution: ‘My train arrives there directly.’ 

Other clients came along gradually, in publishing, literature, art, architecture. His 2004 poetry pavement for the BBC’s ‘media village’ in White City required him to set Andrew Motion’s words in granite, a subtle piece of typography that is easier to read when it rains. (Motion had to write to fit Morgan’s typographic design: fourteen characters.) 

One of Morgan’s first independent book designs was Petersburg Perspectives (Fontanka), a literary guide to the city, with photographs by Yuri Molodkovets. For this, he and publishers Frank Althaus and Mark Sutcliffe set themselves up in a spacious St Petersburg apartment, laying out flatplans on the floor overlooking the Fontanka canal. ‘We were all still learning on the job,’ he says. ‘I hadn’t art-directed Russian photographers before, or attempted to document a city.’ Spending weeks living and working together and ‘drinking vodka from the freezer’ created a bond that is rare in designer-publisher relationships. 

‘It enabled more recent books, like Drawing the Curtain, to happen,’ Morgan says, ‘where the design is integral to how the book is structured, and where good design is a branch of editing.’ 

Morgan attracted a student following with some of his writing in the journal Dot Dot Dot, including ‘The Vow of Chastity’, which he had set (in 2001) as a design brief for graphic design students at CSM. ‘Each first-year student had to sign up and swear to submit to the rules for the duration of the project,’ he wrote, when it was published in Looking Closer Four (Allworth, 2002). ‘They were produced with tongue in cheek, and in direct reference to the Dogme95 “Vow of Chastity” for film-making by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.’ 

Morgan elaborates further: ‘Robin Kinross suggested there could be a design or typography equivalent to the Dogme vow. Paul Stiff wrote a version off the cuff and I wrote mine, which included Paul’s first point: “Content matters: design nothing that is not worth reading.”’ Despite the humorous but critical tone of the vow – ‘a teaching exercise in constraints’ – Morgan says he stands by many of its core principles. For example: ‘The design takes place here and now. No pastiche.’ 

Though he has written articles about design and typography (including an interview with Sally Potter about her father Norman Potter for AA Files), Morgan worries about the role of the designerwriter: ‘The question I pose at talks is: “Name me one graphic designer who has something interesting to say about a subject other than graphic design.” Many graphic designers have an overwhelming desire to publish merely because they have the means to do so.’

This conjures another cinematic analogy: ‘When Linda van Deursen invited me to be an external examiner at the Rietveld Academy, she compared the graphic designer’s role to that of a cinematographer, who has a relationship with a director beyond that credited. They can influence the whole tone of a film.’ 

Morgan’s typographic eye can be seen in projects that have unfolded over time: the identities for Chipperfield and for the Raven Row gallery and in his sure-footed art direction of AA Files, the journal of the Architectural Association School of Architecture. When he took over the quarterly, it was matt laminated with a four-colour cover, ‘like an annual report’. His response was to make something quieter, more literary, that would have a longer shelf life and demand more from its readers. 

The journal’s typographic quietness can be deceptive, though. While Morgan uses Fred Smeijers’ Arnhem Blond for the body text, he has had fun with a series of display typefaces, including some very noisy drop capitals designed by Paul Barnes (see Eye 82), based on what James Mosley terms the English vernacular. The lessons of those Saturday morning type lectures in Reading were not forgotten. 

Collaborations with type designers have been an important part of Morgan’s design armoury for some time. After designing the identity for the Slovenian capital Ljubljana – a logotype made from a letter ‘L’ turned through 45 degrees – he worked with Henrik Kubel (A2 / HK / SW) to produce Ljubljana bold, a typeface for the city. 

As the studio expanded he was able to add a typeface designer (Adrien Vasquez, a graduate of the Reading MA typeface design course) to his team, which means he can create typefaces for new projects such as the 2012 Venice Architectural Biennale, directed by David Chipperfield, for which the studio has devised a stencil alphabet. This summer John and assistant Mathias Clottu will set up a temporary studio in Venice for the Biennale. 

‘John earns your trust,’ says Chipperfield, ‘and that gives him a certain freedom. He’s not having to pitch and perform all the time – he’s just John.’ 

Another client, Richard Embray, of publisher Four Corners, recalls first encountering Morgan’s work through Common Worship. When Embray and partner Elinor Jansz devised the Four Corners Familiars series of novels interpreted by artists, they saw a similar challenge: ‘We wanted these classic texts to be thought of afresh.’ 

Though each artist has as much control as they wish, Morgan’s design maintains a consistent thread. ‘Each relationship in that series has been unique,’ says Morgan. ‘It ranges from ones in which the artist is effectively providing self-contained plates, to more closely integrated books, where we discuss the whole together.’ 

The forthcoming Four Corners edition of Madame Bovary in collaboration with artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz has given Morgan an opportunity to pursue his longstanding search for the ‘generic French paperback typeface’, and his enthusiasm for ‘the typography and romance’ of Livres de Poche – and French design in general. 

Embray describes Morgan’s design for the new Four Corners website,, as ‘slightly perverse’. He explains: ‘we wanted a website that privileges physical objects, that makes you want to handle the books.’ The site encourages users to view and sort the publisher’s books by their size, colour, weight, spine and back, in what Embray describes as ‘a very elegant solution’. 

Though Morgan’s client list is quite varied, the work best known to his fellow designers is the more arcane (‘Mr Hyde’) work for Raven Row and Four Corners. Does he ever yearn to work for a more ‘mainstream’ client? Or a big brand? 

Morgan points immediately to his work in the fashion sector. He’s been working with fashion / costume curator Judith Clark on an exhibition inspired by 1950s Vogue pattern books and on a show that marks 60 years of Chloé. This is not a recent move – he designed an enormous, elegant book of Horst fashion plates (Platinum) for publisher Jefferies Cowan for Hamiltons in 2006. 

‘I’ve been a subscriber to Vogue for many years,’ he says ‘and I hold a secret desire to redesign it.’ How would he approach such a commission? 

‘I would want to strip away all cover copy except for the masthead (which in turn could be more playful and responsive like earlier issues), take the celebrity away, and create a more artful publication, which the content mostly deserves.’ As for big brands, while noting that large organisations tend to work with the larger design consultancies, he sees ‘no reason why a large scale organisation shouldn’t work with individual designers.’ 

Page 1: Great Expectations (GraphicDesign&, 2012), the recently published book in which 70 typographers and designers set the first page of Dickens’ novel and explain their choices, provides a further insight into Morgan’s typography. Morgan, who chose to set Dickens’ words in Bram de Does’s Trinité, is both competitive and modest in his contribution: ‘My aim is to design for readers.’ 

He describes his practice as ‘design-led’ rather than ‘strategy-led’. For him, the ideal situation would be to direct a publishing house or gallery (as Willem Sandberg did at the Stedelijk in the 1950s). 

For the moment he regards himself fortunate in his clients: ‘From what I’ve seen of design education recently, engagement or dialogue with a commissioner or client is seen as a weakness, as if it were an inauthentic activity. The result, apart from a few exceptional moments, is a model of design practice that can only be supported by teaching – which in turn perpetuates a skewed view of what the role of a graphic designer is.’ 

Though Morgan’s brow furrows when asked about the way he specifies type for any project, it is also his favourite subject. He quotes Nietzsche’s rhetorical question: ‘What clothes should modern man wear?’ And while his conversation is peppered with similarly unanswered questions, he is the most decisive and assured of designers when it comes to getting the job done. 

David Chipperfield says: ‘There’s a certain resolute quality in the way John works. He doesn’t mess around.’ Chipperfield remarks that the self-analysis required to decide on a company’s identity – ‘who do you think you are?’ – can be quite terrifying. ‘With John, it was quite pleasant. It’s more about getting closer to what you are. If everyone shouts it’s a good idea to whisper. And John is a very good whisperer.’

Download full article

Derek Birdsall, ‘The Artist’s artist – Derek Birdsall on John Morgan’ in The Guardian, 1 September (2011), p.23

Four Corners Books group shot

John Morgan is a master of what [theatre and opera director] Jonathan Miller lovingly calls ‘negligible details’. This is best evidenced by his design of Dracula for Four Corners Books, in which he ascribes different typefaces to each of the half-dozen protagonists. It is beautifully printed and bound, with a final finesse of a blood-red dye to the tops of the pages.

His jobs look like a designer's dream: graphic identities for David Chipperfield Architects, Turner Contemporary in Margate, Raven Row art gallery, public art projects for the BBC. He worked for me for five years and made a significant contribution to [the prayerbook] Common Worship, which I designed for the Church of England, and now my grandson works for him.

Edwin Heathcote, ‘How to judge a book by its cover – The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in Financial Times, 13/14 June (2009), p.16

This cover, designed by Gareth Jones and John Morgan, seems to dismiss every preconception about the function of a book jacket. There is no mention of title, author or publisher, nor is there an image to evoke the content within. Instead, the designers chose a long quote – in a notably hideous font – to encapsulate this Faustian tale of the beautiful and the ugly.

Wilde was arguably always far more about aphorisms than narrative. This isolated single description, which dwells on the extract rather than the whole, manages to successfully distil the fundamentally epigrammatic nature of the writer’s only novel.

Jones and Morgan selected the font, the horrible ‘ITC Benguiat’, for its Art Nouveau pretensions. Designed in the 1970s, a decade which self-consciously looked back to fin de siècle decadence, the typeface is used to echo the naughty 1890s. But it is also a reference to the Gitanes advertisements, featuring sideburned and moustachioed male models, which populate the inside of the book. It isn’t clear why the artists found Wildean resonance in the French cigarette brand, but it pops up again in the blue ground of the cover – a shade identical to that of Gitanes 20-packs.

The book’s large format refers both to the novel’s original serialisation in Lipincott’s magazine (which saw the first publication of many novels). The pages, featuring different font sizes, and super-sized extracts, do not make the novel easy to read. This is perhaps a direct jibe at Wilde’s observation: ‘The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.’

This cover is certainly among the most striking and unusual of recent years, a bold use of typeface and an example of the still extraordinary power of letters and words in a field saturated with images.

Go to project.

Angharad Lewis, ‘Opening Ambit’ in Grafik, 170 (2009), pp.66–71

Magazines may come and go, but few have the longevity of art magazine Ambit. Launched in the late 1950s and still under the same editorship, it was at the heart of the art scene in London in the 1960s and one of its key collaborators during that period was Eduardo Paolozzi. Angharad Lewis met editor Martin Bax to get the lowdown on a new book (designed by Ambit’s current art-director John Morgan), which celebrates the artist‘s important contribution. 

In 1969, a decade after literary magazine Ambit was first launched by London paediatrician, novelist and editor Martin Bax, it published a visual essay by Eduardo Paolozzi entitled Things. ‘This is the second volume of a long novel sequence Mr Paolozzi is preparing,’ the title page explains. ‘Part three will follow in Ambit 42. Mr Paolozzi is currently collecting the data in Japan.’ Things is a six-page sequence of text and image collages by Paolozzi and represents some of the most highly charged work the artist was producing at that time. 

It was also an exciting time for Ambit magazine, not to mention a seismic time for the world at large. In the wake of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam anti-establishment sentiment, disillusionment with the consumer society and the counterculture movement were gaining pace in Britain and the US. At Ambit magazine, Paolozzi had been on the editorial team since 1967, and was producing startling and dynamic text and image collages that seem to embody the spirit of the age. They were also groundbreaking for the way they utilised the editorial space of the magazine format, bypassing the traditional outlets for visual art (a habit Paolozzi also cultivated in his remarkable public artworks), eschewing the gallery space in favour of the egalitarian vehicle of the printed page. In Things, advertisements, newspaper clippings, medical and anthropological texts and collages rub up alongside each other, creating a powerful static. The viewer ‘reads’ the pages like a visual story in which he or she must complete the associations, decide the gist of the narrative and answer back with their own inner dialogue; linking maimed Vietnamese soldiers in hospital beds to a towering rubbish heap, a car boot stuffed with groceries and an advertisement for a Beretta ‘Minx’ gun that pleads provocatively via a speech bubble: ‘Take me along.’ 

Martin Bax, who is still energetically editing Ambit after fifty years, remembers Paolozzi (who died in 2005) as a sometimes difficult character, never afraid to speak his mind. He also remembers him as an excellent draughtsman and devoted teacher. Their arrangement together for his contributions in Ambit sounds informal. ‘I’d say, “Got anything you want to put in, Eduardo?” He’d say “Yes” and give me five prints and say, “Just give me four back, Martin.”’ After many years of this Bax has a fine collection of Paolozzi prints and sculpture maquettes. But despite a somewhat dismissive attitude to his own work that this might suggest in the artist, Paolozzi could be extremely serious. He was a chronic collector of images from advertisements, newspapers and magazines, which formed an ever-growing archive, becoming part of Ambit as well as his other collage works. ‘He had a dustbin in his studio,’ says Bax, ‘and he would stand over it reading magazines. He’d be turning the pages in Vogue or whatever magazine he was reading, and whenever he saw an image he liked he’d cut it out, put it aside, then the magazine went straight in the bin.’ Every image Paolozzi collected in this way was filed meticulously under alphabetical headings, so when something specific was called for he’d go to the drawer and retrieve it. ‘“Shall we have a car, Martin?” he’d say and go to the drawer and find the car he wanted,’ Bax recollects. 

Up until Ambit number 65 (1976), when Derek Birdsall began designing the magazine, each issue was laid out by Bax and the Ambit editorial staff. Paolozzi’s spreads were often a collaborative effort, sometimes initiated by Bax and often incorporating contributions by J.G. Ballard, another key Ambit contributor. A sequence entitled The Vietnam Symphony (Ambit 63, 1975) was begun by Bax, who collected (with not a little effort, he recalls) a set of images relating to Vietnam, including newspaper images of a lady tourist in the region and a Mois (indigenous Vietnamese). The images and the accompanying text (a cut-up of prose, poem and play told from the perspective of a traveller, a big game hunter, a soldier, a pair of lovers and a Mois draw the reader down intimately into the landscape of Vietnam. For the image spreads Bax recalls that Paolozzi was able to go straight to an archive of collected images and immediately pull out several pages’ worth of material on Vietnam.

Another classic Bax/Paolozzi collaboration – this time from Ambit 40 (1969) – is Why We Are in Vietnam, particularly the spread entitled The Jet Age Compendium. It juxtaposes an image retrieved by Bax from a medical journal showing a man having a cast made of his face (giving him a strangely lunar texture), a shot of people posing in the massive rocket boosters of a space shuttle, an aerial photo of urban destruction during the 1967 Detroit riot and some naked revellers (‘taken at a party I was not at,’ Bax notes wryly). 

A high-spirited atmosphere and sense of rebellion circulates around the Ambits of the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps epitomised by the cover of the fiftieth issue (1972). Bax recalls the decade as a golden era of poetry events and jazz concerts and probably no other era could have produced Euphoria Bliss, the rather mesmerising lady who appears on the cover of Ambit 50, decked out in nothing more than skimpy pants and a piece of netting. Looking on is a gathering of Ambit editors and contributors, including Bax, Paolozzi and Ballard. 

‘At that time Eduardo was having a show at the Royal Academy,’ recalls Bax. ‘We went there with a photographer when the gallery was closed and it was completely empty. Euphoria went off to get changed into whatever it was she put on and then the photographer started taking pictures. After a while we turned round and the place was full. All the Royal Academy staff had heard there was this naked woman in the gallery and had come creeping out from the back to see.’ 

A clear political note was often struck by Paolozzi throughout the time he was contributing to Ambit, and this is something that chimed with book publishers Elinor Janz and Richard Embray of Four Corners Books. They will publish a compendium of Paolozzi’s Ambit work later this year in a book designed by John Morgan, who is also the current designer of Ambit magazine. ‘It showed a different side to Paolozzi, as a collaborator, and a politically engaged one at that, which is perhaps an often-overlooked side of his work,’ Embray comments. ‘This, along with the fact that the work is good enough to deserve a more permanent home in a book rather than a magazine, made us feel it was worth republishing. Much of this material hasn't been seen since the 1960s/70s.’ 

Morgan regards the politicised aspect of Paolozzi’s Vietnam spreads almost as a call to arms for today’s designers, and he laments the lack of such visual protest in the twenty-first century. ‘Where is the contemporary equivalent to the Vietnam Symphony?’ he asks. ‘Where is the Iraq Symphony? Unlike many contemporary design or cultural magazines, Ambit was at these times politically and socially engaged.’ Morgan also relates to the way Ambit used its pages and layouts as a forum for original artistic expression rather than reproduction. ‘These spreads appeal because they are a form of writing – a visual essay – that designers and artists should have the ability to produce,’ Morgan continues. ‘Here we have designer-as-author in the literal sense.’ 

This urge to create something original within an editorial framework also drives the work at Four Corners, where Janz and Embray believe in producing books that stand as artworks themselves rather than being catalogues of existing work by artists. ‘No catalogues’ is just about their only rule. ‘The Ambit spreads didn’t merely reproduce prints or sculptures, but used the magazine as a site for a particular kind of creative endeavour, and frequently played on the conventions of newspaper and magazine design and content,’ says Embray. ‘They weren’t poor substitutes for visiting a Paolozzi show in person; they were a Paolozzi show in their own right, right there between your hands. Which very much fits in with the kind of books that we want to do: not records of something else, but as artworks, if you like, in their own right.’ 

Although their Paolozzi book will reproduce existing work, it will make a fresh interpretation of it by taking a leaf out of Paolozzi’s own working methods. Morgan’s approach to the design of the book could be described as structural rather than visual. Original Paolozzi spreads are re-created full-size (the book has the same dimensions as an issue of Ambit magazine) as sections from the original magazines. Thus stray pages of editorial and advertising that were published adjacent to Paolozzi’s spreads also appear in the book. Individual Ambit covers relating to the issue in which each episode originally appeared are used as dividers. The reader finds snatches of poetry, a contents page or a printer’s advertisement bumping up against Paolozzi’s work in much the same way as collaged elements collide within his work. 

Four Corners’ book project aims to let Paolozzi’s works stand as they are with relatively little intervention, thus even the added written content (an essay contextualising the work by David Brittain) remains a separate booklet. It is held together with the main content of the book by a neon pink plastic dust jacket, inspired by Paolozzi’s Moonstrips Empire News, a 1967 portfolio of screenprints housed in a pink acrylic box. 

‘We’re doing a Paolozzi,’ Morgan concludes, ‘making a found book, a collage of Paolozzi pieces.’ Meanwhile, Ambit magazine, sans Paolozzi, continues to provide a forum for radical new writing and artwork, still cutting it fifty years on.

Hugo, ‘Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor Franz Kafka’ in Grafik, June (2009), pp.78–79

There are few books that come my way that actually consider to be little works of art, but in this month’s instalment we have one. As a book it conveys something fine and special, and it does so in a gracefully unassuming and quietly proud way. I’m still completely in awe of my copy, months after first finding it. I think I always will be.

In the bookmaker’s art, this volume balances perfectly two very different qualities. On the one hand we have really old-school craft, look and feel: from a distance it appears to have no discernible cover design and could easily be a sobering bound pamphlet from the world of Edwardian civil engineering. That impression stays with you through first touch, but then the surprises begin and we enter very contemporary territory. The first impression was not wrong, but new and added layers come forth: there is cover design, a matt black-on-black embossed cover with hyphenated (read: disjointed) lettering; all a good visual precursor to Kafka and the life you are about to read about.

But don’t open up to text just yet. Four Corners has given us some joyful little touches to lighten us up for Kafka.The spine is an incontestably fine example of bookmaker craft and design, somehow familiar and totally new all at once; it demands you look closely to read it, as it first appears an ordered jumble of letters. There is a discipline to it which, once understood, makes all clear. And just before opening for the first time I noticed from above the binding in a weave of blue and white. I thought it ‘good-looking’ until I then opened the book and saw that same blue and white striped pattern all across the inside cover.

But it’s not decorative, it’s hypnotic.Your eyes are caught in a very simple and very effective visual illusion, with one off-pattern circle to either twist you further or help you focus; I’m still not sure which. It’s very good. And again balances that traditional and contemporary vibe. Staring at it long and then quickly turning the page makes the paper on the new page ‘swim’ as if staring into some Petri dish loaded with micro-somethings from the Hall of Scary Sciences.

Does this all sound a bit much? As you’re about to read Kafka, it’s not. In fact, this design playfulness/illusion is appropriate as this is a story with some degree of playfulness, not something normally associated with the author and worth noting. Wait till you read about the balls. And people under illusions of one sort or another was Kafka’s game. One of the reasons I rate this book so highly is that the design and artwork have a total engagement with the text and story: there is an interactive process between the two of continuity and disjuncture, clarification and confusion, beautifying and foreboding; all of which prepare you for and reflect the story itself.

After the blue and white hypnotic, the design steps back and lets the story begin with one of the most elegantly simple and accessible layouts I’ve ever seen. It actually makes reading Kafka easy and enjoyable, which is a strange and implausible compliment of sorts. You are given one more treat but you wouldn’t know it; the font used, Walbaum, was Kafka’s favourite.

As for the story, it has an appropriate tone for the world today. Especially in the world of work. It looks at one man’s life, Blumfeld, in one day: his private life full of compulsions and worries, epic battles in the mind, order and disorder; and his public life of sorts at work, where his and his employers’ absurd existence plays itself out in a touchingly believable way. It hurts, and makes you smile. And you hope it does not happen to you.

The artist David Musgrave provides pencil drawings to illustrate the book. Looking like pieces from the deepest vault at the British Museum, I did not ‘get’ them until I read the book. Then they stared back at me, lonely and full of meaning. Four Corners told me that Mr Musgrave was very much involved in the decisions concerning the making of this book. They wanted something that was organic to the whole story and design, and not just ‘pictures on a page’. In this they have succeeded admirably. Future bookmakers should take note.

I can’t say enough for John Morgan’s design work. The level of detail and the lack of attention-seeking, yet its utter attractiveness and the ease with which it takes you through the story make it a volume I find has few comparisons. It charmed me, an unusual thing to say. I know, but something I rate very highly as I find so little of it in publishing or the world in general these days. I suspect there’s so little of it because, generally, it’s best when it’s free.

Anyway, back to the story and why you should read some Kafka as well as marvel at the design. Kafka’s good for some uncomfortable insights into today’s world. Orwell and Stalin seem to float about in the upper reaches of his universe. And in this world of sub-prime and Blackwater, Cheney and Madoff (isn’t that a perfect name for what he did?), he is instructive: none of this is new, some of it is not going to end well, and it might just be a good idea to keep your head and life in-tray as clear as possible in case larger forces come knocking. Blumfeld doesn’t seem that well equipped, I guess. Or maybe he is. I’m not sure what the truth is here. Maybe that’s a good place to start…

Go to project.

Michael Bracewell, ‘Editions of You’ in Frieze, 116 (2008), pp.25–26

As evidenced by such recent ventures in artist-led publishing as the ‘Familiars’ list from Elinor Jansz and Richard Embray’s Four Corners Books and Book Works’ ‘Fabrications’ series, there is a developing interest in the idea that classic texts, ‘lost’ books or previously hard-to-find publications can be simultaneously revived, reassessed and repositioned as new editions created by artists. In this, a book or text is both being made newly available and, equally importantly, being entered into what might be described as a process of print re-enactment: a renewed engagement with the history of a work, in which the processes of publishing as much as the text itself – its authorship, context and editorial ancestry – become both media for new art-making and venues for cultural historical inquiry.

The ‘Familiars’ series, which commenced last autumn with an acclaimed new edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), designed by John Morgan to a concept and art work by Gareth Jones, is a bravura example of how an iconic book might be re-enacted. Returning, on the one hand, to the publishing history of Wilde’s novel, which first appeared in print on 20 June 1890, as pages 3–100 of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, the ‘Familiars’ edition restored the book to its physical form as a large-format, magazine-style publication. The pages turn over with languid ease, as though to the neat flick of a doubtlessly yellow-gloved hand. The phrase ‘A young man of extraordinary personal beauty’ is printed on the pale blue cover in dense black letters. Wilde’s famous preface to his novel, in the form of a succession of aphorisms (concluding ‘All art is quite useless’), is printed in large italics, with entire pages and double-page spreads luxuriously given over to the rolling flow of each maxim and paradox. The effect is to refresh and dramatize one’s reading of the text, while also reminding the reader of the complexities of Wilde’s cultural enshrinement. And yet this is only one half of the artistic formula at work in The Picture of Dorian Gray as reconceived by Jones. By way of design, motif, typography and, most importantly, the inclusion within the text (as illustration) of advertisements for Gitanes cigarettes – originally made in the 1970s by the Hipgnosis advertising agency for UK print media and featuring suave, Gallically handsome male models – Jones re-routes the novel to both concepts of masculine beauty and the reclamation of Art Nouveau and Wildean foppishness within the subcultural pop styling and fashions of the early 1970s. Other new publications in the ‘Familars’ series include an edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), conceived and illustrated by the artist James Pyman, and Franz Kafka’s disturbing short story ‘Blumfeld, An Elderly Bachelor’ (1915), with images by David Musgrave. In both cases, more formally, the texts reinterpret themselves by way of the artist’s intervention: Pyman’s soft, ghostly illustrations to Dracula, in the form of exquisitely poised and shaded drawings, work to highly dramatic effect, seeming to combine the peculiar inscrutability of illustrations to a child’s first reading book with a tense, poetic and obsessive timbre, reminiscent of David Lynch’s eye for particular detail. Likewise, Musgrave’s illustrations to the Kafka story have an other-worldly, ethnographical air; miniatures, pictorially untethered to the occurrences within Kafka’s tale, they seem to suggest prehistoric, occult or extraterrestrial presences – thus adding a new gloss, all the more chilling for being intentionally indistinct, to this account of a man haunted by two tirelessly bouncing rubber balls.

In a separate venture, yet linked in Gothic sensibility, the artist Pablo Bronstein conceived and published in 2005 a new edition of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765). Such affiliation to the Gothic as fable and futurology is matched in the Book Works ‘Fabrications’ series, edited by Gerrie van Noord, and the reclamation of Gustave Affeulpin’s quasi-science-fictional satire on state-sponsored culture, The So-called Utopia of the Centre Beaubourg – An Interpretation first published in 1976. Affeulpin being the pseudonym adopted by Albert Meister, this oddly Punkish/Situationist fable, re-envisaged and redesigned by Luca Frei, describes a subterranean (hence literally underground) venue for radical creativity that has been established directly beneath the flamboyantly iconoclastic new centre for the visual arts in Paris. Co-published by Book Works and CASCO Office for Art, Theory and Design, Utrecht, the re-enacted book also adheres to a trend that stretches back in the history of British publishing to the Virago and Picador lists of the 1970s, through which hitherto hard-to-find Beat, Surrealist, feminist, fabular and New Journalistic titles were republished in new editions and their political, gender-political, countercultural or avant-garde pronouncements reassessed.

This relationship between lost or occluded texts, appropriation, re-enactment and history as subject matter, particularly in relation to countercultural bibliography, is well summarized by the statement of intent from the Amsterdam venture (Missingbooks), whose re-publication in 2005 of the Argentinian New Journalist Rodolfo Walsh’s A Dark Day of Justice (1973) was accompanied by the making of a film reconstruction, In The Last Twenty Minutes (2005), of Walsh’s assassination in 1977. As proposed by (Missingbooks), their intention is ‘to bring what has disappeared back into view’, in such a manner that ‘the background of the disappearance is contextualized […] intervening in the canon of cultural heritage’. This might also be a perfect description of another of the ‘Fabrications’ series, Today in History/Tarihte Bugün (2007), by Ahmet Ögüt, in which drawings and paraphrased stories taken from Turkish newspapers over the last four decades are reprinted, removed from their context. Likewise (also from Book Works) Maria Fusco’s new series of publications ‘The Happy Hypocrite’ (2007–ongoing), which aims to investigate and survey radical and experimental methods of writing about art by, among other means, incorporating found texts and parodic writing.

The notion of publication and republication as a venue for creativity and polemical, ‘secret’ history is also well documented at Metronome Press, Paris (founded in 2005 by Clémentine Deliss and Thomas Boutoux), whose forthcoming Unhouse – The Architecture of Dwelling Portably, created by artist Oscar Tuazon (with an epilogue by the novelist and former nest magazine literary editor Matthew Stadler) provides an astonishing account of Bert and Holly Davis’ nomadic existence in the forests of Oregon, including facsimile reproductions from their ’zine Dwelling Portably – ‘written by and for a close community of hardcore hippie survivalists’. As mainstream literary publishers begin to explore, by way of new, digital reprint and print-on-demand technologies, economically viable means of bringing unfairly lost and out-of-print titles back to availability, so it would seem that these artist-driven ventures into print re-enactment are not alone in their desire to escape subordination to the extended and homogenizing processes of cultural globalization. The world wants more than celebrity chefs. And as Patti Smith so memorably remarked, at the conclusion of her winter 1975 performance in Cleveland, Ohio of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ (1965): ‘We created it – let’s take it over.’

Angharad Lewis, ‘Fresh & Wilde’ in Grafik, 159 (2008), pp.60–65

Four Corners Familiars is an intriguing new series of limited-edition artists’ books that are set to change the way we look at some of our best-loved literary classics. Here, Angharad Lewis reveals the story behind the first instalment, which features Oscar Wilde’s only novel and is the result of a collaboration between artist Gareth Jones and designer John Morgan. 

The idea of celebrity scandal is as well known to us today as Prince Charles’s filthy phone calls, Judy Finnegan’s taste in bras and the private grooming habits of a procession of car-exiting ingénues. But in the 1880s, when he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde was a trailblazer in the field of media spectacle – indeed, he courted press attention avidly before it contributed to his downfall and his arrest and imprisonment for gross indecency in 1895. Of course, this was a far more spectacular and tragic chapter than anything that has befallen an inmate of the Big Brother house, which artist Gareth Jones is quick to point out when I meet him to talk about his new interpretation of Dorian Gray, published by Four Corners Books in December. ‘He is regarded now almost as the first bona fide media figure, someone who understood the value of press and publicity and used it to further his cause,’ Jones says of his subject. Wilde’s relationship with the media, his manipulation of it and his treatment at its hands has informed one important aspect of Jones’s surprising new version of Wilde’s only novel. 

The book is a collaboration between Jones and graphic designer John Morgan and turns conventional ideas about book publishing on their head to shed new light on a familiar text and a superlative writer. The tools of the graphic designer, the architecture of magazine layout design, typography and format, act as a conductor for the ideas of the artist – indeed, here they actually become the artist’s materials. 

A shorter version of The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published as a single instalment in Lippincott’s, a magazine in which many nineteenth-century novels first reached the public in serialised episodes. Picking up a copy of Jones and Morgan’s Dorian Gray is probably closer to the experience nineteenth-century readers of Lippincott’s had than any of the hundreds of editions that have been published since. However, their large-format, saddle-stitched, magazine-like book is not something you can imagine easily handling on the Tube, nor is it designed with such casual reading in mind. 

You could be forgiven for assuming that getting an artist involved in the publication of a novel would result simply in an illustrated text, but this is far from the case here. Jones has indeed introduced a visual component, but his approach, with Morgan’s help, has been to remodel the book in its entirety from a conceptual standpoint, achieving in the process a new kind of literary and artistic object. ‘I also like the idea that maybe it wouldn’t be read at all,’ says Jones. ‘It might be something you just look at, which is perhaps an artist’s revenge on a writer.’ 

The visuals take the form of a series of pages from 1970s magazines featuring Gitanes cigarettes adverts, carefully reproduced exactly as they originally appeared on the page, complete with surrounding slices of editorial. These images were already very familiar to Jones – he’s kept the magazines since the 70s and had previously used them in an installation piece. They seemed to perfectly encompass the ideas about printing, publishing, celebrity and male identity that Dorian Gray represented for Jones. The adverts, therefore, stand alone as a work, as well as adding a new level of interpretation to Wilde’s text. They make for interesting semiotic interpretation – read smoking as a communal but Solipsistic act; immaculately groomed but macho male models; earrings (every Gitanes man sports one); fur collars and baker-boy caps; and always an unflinching gaze to camera. What might seem like overtly gay symbolism today would in the 1970s – when masculine identities were, on the surface, much more cut-and-dried – have been highly codified. There is a correlation between how we might read these Gitanes adverts today and how we might also reread Wilde’s novel. ‘It’s a subtextual novel,’ says Jones, ‘in a way that you couldn’t write a subtextual novel today. It’s about men and a community of men, it’s a homosocial book. Much of the recent writing about Wilde has been done by queer theorists and I wanted to use these images as a way of referring to that.’ 

There is also, of course, the language of smoking and its links to the ideas of mortality and beauty in Dorian Gray, but Jones would not like the connections we draw as readers to be too literal. Rather, he is concerned with exploring how a dated text can be made to speak in a new way to a modern audience. This is a key motivation for Elinor Janz and Richard Embray, the masterminds behind Four Corners Familiars. ‘The starting point was to look again at the tradition of the illustrated novel,’ says Embray, ‘which, to our mind, had fallen into decline since its heyday in the 1800s ... In our new editions, the original author and the artist become co-authors of the new volumes. Hopefully, the result for the reader is something much less passive than looking at a straightforward visual representation of a scene from the book and something wlth more interesting possibilities than that.’ 

Jones has consciously picked up on this temporal reframing of classic books, but he’s also run much further with the idea, referencing the recent trend in theatre for staging plays in different eras from that of the original-such as the version of Richard III set in Nazi Germany. ‘I liked the idea that we were setting The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1970s Paris,’ he says. ‘The book would work through different time frames. There would be the now of making the book, the time the adverts are from and also the time when the book was written. So maybe you could read the text and actually imagine everyone moving around in Art Nouveau revival interiors in 1970s Paris, with Art Deco objects and wearing a particular kind of clothing.’ 

You can’t help feeling that if Wilde was looking down from literary heaven he’d certainly approve. It would be difficult to argue that the narrative thrust of Wilde’s novel is its strong point, but he positively revels in dialogue and the details of his mise-en-scène. ‘The brilliance is all in the epigrammatic use of language,’ Jones observes. ‘You almost sense that when Wilde is having to deal with the narrative he can’t wait to get it over and done with and get to the next dinner party scene and another volley of witticisms.’ 

Jones’s dramatic layering also informed the rationale behind John Morgan’s approach to the typographic styling in the book. He used three fonts: Times New Roman Italic for the preface, ITC Garamond for the body copy and ITC Benguiat for the titles. ‘lt’s a horrendous-looking thing,’ Morgan says of the latter, ‘which you should of course never use.’ But the florid font makes perfect sense in this context. It was designed by Edward Benguiat in 1977–78, matching one of the relevant eras for the book. ‘It also hits the Art Nouveau time frame as well,’ says Morgan, ‘as it’s sometimes described as the ultimate Art Nouveau typeface.’ 

Morgan’s rationale for using ITC Garamond is equally watertight. Type aficionados may be wondering at this point why the designer didn’t opt for the much more widely respected Stempel cut of Garamond but, as Morgan reasons, lTC’s version, which was cut in 1975, simply smacks of that decade. ‘It’s almost like it’s wearing flares, in a subtle kind of way,’ he says. 

The choice of Times New Roman for the preface has an even subtler and mare straightforward rationale – that of its links to newspapers and publishing (also echoed in the choice of a newsprint-like paper stock) neatly colluding with Jones’s narrative about the media forum in which Wilde, his novel and the Gitanes ads all move. 

Artist and graphic designer working together on this project have made quietly eloquent decisions that comprise a radical outcome. They have cleverly avoided an overly-historical look and a Wilde-era pastiche. Their new version is a thoroughly twenty-first-century beast. Feeling more like a magazine than a book in your hands, you’re tempted to dip in and out, enjoying the language without necessarily engaging fully with the narrative. Jones and Morgan were well aware that Wilde’s language is apt to be experienced in this way. This is most clearly felt in their handling of the book’s preface. When Wilde makes a statement like ‘all art is quite useless’, you know he’s being deliberately provocative but there’s also a sense that this could well also be vacuous high drama. ‘Only someone with the fabulous, self-confident arrogance of Oscar Wilde could say something so definite while also being ambiguous,’ says Jones, who has his own succinct way of explaining Wilde’s pithy rhetoric: ‘It’s a conundrum you can think about endlessly. What’s he actually saying? Is it just contradiction for the sake of contradiction? Is there some profound truth in this or is it its truth that it is really empty?’ 

When Dorian Gray was published in Lippincott’s in 1890 Wilde’s detractors got their knives out. Wilde had his revenge when he wrote the preface to the 1891 edition, making it a scathing riposte to his critics. Jones plays up the preface, emphasising the flourish of Wilde’s style by drawing out what would usually be a single page of text over twenty-six pages. Wilde’s taboo-laden statements about art are manifested as bold sentences set generously over double-page spreads. ‘From my point of view as an artist it was interesting (to do this),’ says Jones, ‘because so many (of Wilde’s statements) are things you wouldn’t say or shouldn’t say – it was like holding my hand over the frame.’ Wilde’s voice here reigns supreme but Jones’s intervention makes a powerful statement in itself, and Morgan’s typesetting gives the preface as a whole a sacerdotal air. Morgan is well-primed to present the Wilde’s words in a liturgical fashion – his work on the Book of Common Worship, which he designed with Derek Birdsall, was a direct reference point on this project. ‘We were looking at how the layout is designed to carry a performative element,’ says Jones. ‘There could almost be someone in the pulpit saying this.’ 

Where all the facets of this investigation into The Picture of Dorian Gray – performance, the Wilde rhetoric, timescales and subtextual meaning – seem to come together perfectly is the cover. Where Jones and Morgan’s subversion of format is most pronounced. Dorian Gray’s painted image is the crux of the novel’s narrative and almost every previous volume of the book you encounter uses this idea on the cover, reproducing an image of male beauty. Part of the novel’s magic, however, is that you don’t know what Dorian looks like – you’re left to imagine his appearance as he looks – all beautiful innocence at the start to his gradually ageing portrait and the final grotesque vision of his corrupt soul. Jones’s cover riffs on the imagination’s superior ability to conjure up the image of Dorian by being purely text-based, simply quoting the novel’s description of Dorian: ‘A Young Man of Extraordinary Personal Beauty.’ 

The Picture of Dorian Gray has set a precedent for what will be an intriguing and highly collectible series from Four Corners. It’s a brilliantly conceived publishing project and while the Four Corners Familiars are, on one level, artists’ books, they will be very affordable multiples (just £11.95 – irresistible at twice the price) and look likely to genuinely breathe new life into the jaded form of the literary paperback. Each of the titles will see an artist work closely with John Morgan and he describes his approach with a statement that seems to perfectly sum up the spirit of the project as a whole: ‘Let the content determine the form each time.’ It just wouldn’t be right to deprive Oscar Wilde of the last word, though. One of his epithets seems a thought-provoking rejoinder to Morgan’s aims for the series and is also a serendipitous description of the way Jones has reframed Dorian Gray: ‘It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.’

Simon Loxley, ‘Strangely Familiar’ in Design Week, 36, vol.23 (2008), p.21

In a break from conventional commissioning practice, one publisher has the stories they would like to illustrate. The results of this brave approach are native reinterpretations of some well-known titles, discovers Simon Loxley.

Despite appearances to the contrary, there are more ways to develop a publishing concept than by simply pairing minor celebrities with ghost writers. Four Corners Books, the editorial team of Elinor Jansz and Richard Embray, has since 2003 pooled its experiences in fine art and publishing with the aim of producing accessible, affordable art books. In its series Four Corners Familiars it has taken a less conventional commissioning route – approaching an artist and giving them the choice of story they would like to illustrate.

The format changes from book to book, the only constants being the hand and eye of John Morgan as designer and an oblique approach to the texts, making the familiar unfamiliar once more and recapturing that lost initial impact. The result is a series that is visually striking and, dangerous as it is to make predictions, surely destined for iconic status.

Alluding to the story’s original 1890 appearance in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, the first Familiar – Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – has been published in a large soft-cover format. The well-tried method of illustrating Dorian Gray is to take an image roughly appropriate in terms of content from a gallery collection of the period. Gareth Jones has also taken a found-image approach, but there the similarity ends; he lifts the story from fin-de-siecle London and transplants it to 1970s Paris, courtesy of a series of Gitanes cigarette advertisements from the Sunday supplements of the period.

The gazes of the earringed boulevardiers featured in the ads would today be read as an obvious homosexual come on, but most in fact exude a slightly creepy self-absorption. Narcissus was an image that held great resonance for Wilde, and Jones poses far more questions about Dorian Gray’s personality than the traditional modern-classics route of illustration ever could. Morgan has added to the visual provocation by using as a highlighting typeface ITC Benguiat – a distinctive 1970s pariah from current typographical tastes – and a cover design in which the title of the book and the author’s name do not feature.

Dracula is illustrated by James Pyman, who restricts conventional vampire imagery to one bat and one shadowy castle. The rest of the illustrations are refreshingly off-kilter, with a dreamy intensity that suggests the hallucinatory obsessiveness of fever. Morgan has addressed the visually dense, epistolary format of Bram Stoker’s prose by assigning each correspondent in the story their own text face, making for an inviting page.

Blumfeld: An Elderly Bachelor is a little-known novella by Franz Kafka. Unfinished (no surprises there), it tells the story of a man who returns home to find that two bouncing balls have invaded his living space. Where have the balls come from? How would the story have ended? With Kafka there are always more questions than answers.

David Musgrave has intensified the conundrum with a series of tiny illustrations showing what appear to be artefacts from a lost civilisation as obscure as the origin of the balls themselves, their purposes equally unknowable. Morgan has used Kafka’s text face of choice, Walbaum, and designed op art endpapers that gave the book’s printers a literal headache at proofing stage.

With other titles in preparation for next year, Four Corners continues to court serendipity in developing the series – it is offering an open submission for a title, the details of which will be announced in October.


Go to project.

David Brittain, ‘Little British…’ in Eye, 65, Autumn (2007), pp.46–51

When Martin Bax founded his quarterly magazine, Ambit, in 1959, Britain was sleepwalking into the global village. Almost 50 years later, with Bax still at the helm, Ambit has become something of an institution. Recent issue no.188 contains the usual mix of short fiction and poetry by contributors both new (Cyrus Shahrad) and familiar (Alan Brownjohn) with a colour portfolio of pictures by Dominik Klimowski. Nothing unusual about this. Except that Ambit’s insistence on giving images and literature equal weight (as opposed to making images illustrate texts) used to set artists and designers against writers. If the magazine owes its longevity to any one thing it is the energy of Bax, a paediatrician turned novelist whose skill at riding out financial storms is surpassed only by his amazing instinct for attracting, nurturing – and keeping – talented people.

Go to project.
Go to Eye magazine for full article.

Jonathan Bell, ‘Profile: John Morgan studio’ in Grafik, 130 (2005), pp.28–37

Most designers establish recognition and reputation through an evolving ‘style’. Not so John Morgan studio, which starts every job from ‘zero’, preferring thoughtfulness, humour and the English design tradition to flights of fashion. As Jonathan Bell discovered when he visited the studio, every John Morgan job stands on its own two design legs.

The staircase leading up to John Morgan’s compact Hackney studio delivers a timely reminder of the ways things once were. It’s a chunky, purpose-built, concrete-shelled building hosting a number of businesses, from modern design studios to traditional scissors-sharpeners. On each landing, the floor level is marked by an old-hand-painted sign, just a piece of wood with a carefully stencilled sans-serif text. But in the time since these studios were finished and the present day, such mundane examples of ad-hoc yet functionally designed objects seem to have entirely vanished from everyday life.

For Morgan, together with his collaborator of twelve months Michael Evidon, these vanishings are symptomatic of the slow erosion of the importance of design. His is a studio steeped in the tradition of design as a means of enhancing, illuminating, but never overwhelming, the message or the content. Yet Morgan is a designer seemingly operating outside fashion, with a broad and varied client list and little interest in stamping a distinct studio style on his work. Recent work includes designs for poetry workshops, a new prayerbook for the Church of England, exhibition graphics for the Design Museum and several small circulation magazines.

Morgan has often been pigeonholed as something of a modern traditionalist, determined to reclaim design from merely showboating and return it to the forefront of visual culture. It’s a position at odds with the status quo, and one that is sharpened by his biting sense of humour and rare self-awareness. His ironic Vow of Chastity, written back in 2001, was a tongue-in-cheek anti-manifesto, aimed squarely at the students he was then teaching at Central St Martins. The Vow was a kind of Dogme 95 for print, railing against the voguish, image-saturated work that was starting to emerge, and in the process going to extremes, simultaneously satirising all forms of designer excesses, be they form for form’s sake, or hair-shirted isolationism. Nonetheless, Morgan isn’t rejecting these ideas out of hand; his monograph for Mike Figgis, best known for his stripped-back, digital video-led approach to filmmaking and loose affiliation with the cinéma verité of the Dogme School, was a chance to put some of these ideas into practice. Morgan describes the book ‘as being allowed to design itself,’ with notes hand-written directly onto layouts and stills grabbed through Adobe Premiere and outputted on an ink-jet, then scanned for repro.

To better understand Morgan’s position one needs to examine his path through Britain’s systems of education and entertainment. The thirty-two-year-old studied typography at the University of Reading, one the country’s foremost – and most self-confessedly ascetic – design courses. Reading’s typographers – who are allowed on the course straight from school without the dubious benefit of a year-long foundation course – typically go on to work in publishing, hacking away at the unfashionable coal-face of pure type. Following Reading, Morgan undertook a fruitful five-year collaboration with Derek Birdsall at Omnific. The John Morgan studio was founded in 2000, and along the way he has found time to be a founding member of Workplace Co-operative 115, a new studio building in Kentish Town designed by Dan Monck and Duncan Kramer and intended as a gathering place for like-minded creatives.

Now happily ensconced in Hackney, he believes that his apparent status as a ‘modern traditionalist’ is more accident than design. ‘It’s not a conscious thing – it’s not that we produce work that is unfashionable, we just aim for a longer shelf life.’ Yet although he emphasises the importance of working ‘without dogma, without fashion – not to impose a style’, his influences betray a very English school of thoughtful design, practitioners who strove to educate and illuminate, working in close collaboration with each other for the common good. What could turn into an unbearably solemn and austere obsession with ‘good work – and ‘good works’ – is tempered by a well-developed sense of humour and self-awareness, and a desire actually to create real things, rather than spin arcane theories (an approach advocated by the late Norman Potter in What is a designer, a text Morgan considers hugely influential).

He is emphatically against the cyclical nature of graphic-design culture – ‘we believe in starting from zero’ – and would be the first to admit that he doesn’t have a ‘coherent body of work’.

‘Why should a prayerbook look like a book by Mike Figgis?’ he asks. ‘This is the only place they’ll be seen together, in a design magazine.’ The prayerbook was a project started with Birdsall and then taken on by Morgan on his own. A prayerbook has long-standing visual conventions dating back centuries, and their version updates these elements. The clear text is set in black, red and bold type, while the actual object itself is highly produced, with over 900 pages, six coloured ribbons, a thick cover and the perfect weight and feel. ‘Books are as much about materials and the way they sit in the hand,’ he explains, stressing the importance of choosing the right materials and not hurrying a complex process that involved much to-ing and fro-ing with committees and commissions.

Lest one think that Morgan is concerned only with ancient liturgies and handsome bindings, consider some of the recent work to come out of his studio. Voices of White City, started in 2004, is a large-scale public artwork at the BBC’s new White City building (designed by Allies and Morrison). Morgan has replaced existing granite pavers with a darker-hued stone, using the small 90mm square blocks to form letters than run 98 metres along the length of the space. The inspiration is not pixels but embroidery, like that of a tapestry sampler, with the size and spacing of the courtyard determining the precise amount of text needed (the brief to Andrew Motion was for a series of words with just fourteen characters per line). An apparently abstracted panel in the centre actually contains Motion’s entire poem distilled into binary code.

Another BBC project will create a line of text running along a giant hoarding enveloping one of the corporation’s newest building projects. Instead of painting the hoarding, or scaling up a print item to fit the space, Morgan will use 10,000 circular stickers – in red, green and blue and pre-printed with a varieties of community-generated texts and poems – arranged on a grid, which will then be turned into dot matrix text by the simple act of peeling off the relevant stickers. These letters will disappear still further as passers-by remove yet more stickers (which will end up scattered across West London), eventually leaving the hoarding empty, an ultra-low-cost solution for the site. Other recent work includes exhibition graphics for the Design Museum’s permanent collection, Designing Modern Life, which utilities off-the-shelf shelving components as a way of generating a grid. There’s also the layout of a new book, Experiments in Architecture, which takes a decidedly low-fi approach to architectural publishing, eschewing the coffee table aesthetic in favour of a polemical paperback that includes contributions from Cedric Price and Bruce McLean.

The sticker project in particular, with its emphasis on impermanence and uncontrolled dissemination goes some way to dispelling the image of Morgan as an ideologue wedded to tried and tested means of delivery. His stated aim to ‘minimise the arbitrary’ and make strategies and ideas ‘bullet-proof’, owes much to Derek Birdsall’s desire to fuse typography’s innate invisibility and subjugation to the text with the more elaborate means of delivery highlighted by the movement. That said, Morgan is dismissive of ‘people [who] are seduced by these European heroes’, preferring the quiet tradition of progress typified by the Arts and Crafts movement, ‘an English modernism’ which aspired to influence the whole of society, from Charles Ashbee, W.R. Lethaby and William Morris, through Eric Gill to Lewis Mumford and Anthony Froshaug and more.

Morgan’s critique of the systems within which the designer has to operate is informed by his personal outlook, gentle nibbling rather than actually biting at the hand that feeds. In part, this is due to his rejection of irony – ‘no knowing winks (with hooded eyes)’ – as a cultural device. His spell teaching at St Martins seemed to end in frustration, but you feel the students are far poorer for the absence of his challenging briefs with their obtuse questionnaires (‘what is the difference between honesty and sincerity in your work?’, read one, quoting Norman Potter), provocations that underscore his belief that the ‘tightest brief really produces the best work’. Taken to extremes this resulted in the Vow of Chastity (‘Formats must not be ‘A’ sizes. Paper must be chlorine free. It must be off-white’) and you sense that Morgan really does holds certain of its tenets to heart (‘no thoughtless application of style’).

Above all, Morgan’s studio produces work that demonstrates a rare combination of intelligence and humour, both somewhat missing, especially in combination, from the contemporary design scene. Writing has proved an integral part of process, with frequent contributions to Typography Papers and Dot Dot Dot. His descriptions of briefs and projects, movements and provocations, all have a deft economy of word, something that has clearly come from years of assessing and really understanding texts, and having the desire to produce work that genuinely complements them. Morgan’s series of quasi-imaginary conversations with ‘The Artist’, ‘The Publisher’ and even ‘The Taxi Driver’ (first published in Dot Dot Dot) are droll set-pieces that encapsulate the frustrations, misunderstandings and sleight of hand that characterise contemporary design production (‘So John, I want it to look contemporary,’ says The Publisher. ‘By definition, if I’m doing it today it’ll be contemporary,’ says Morgan’s thinly-fictionalised alter-ego. ‘Yes, yes. I don’t want it to be boring. Use plastic or something.’)

The issue of class is also raised, albeit circumspectly, by Morgan, who gently questions graphic design’s continuing subservient role, kowtowing to the double-barrelled captains of art and industry who continue to hold the keys to the commissioning process. At the same time, he acknowledges that ‘most design is produced by non-graphic designers’, implying that the industry, such as it is, faces an ongoing battle for recognition. Exhortations to cheap and vulgar novelty are clearly not Morgan’s style, implying perhaps that the world will have to change before he does. The refusal to adopt a ‘house style’ is oxymoronical in a world entranced by branding, yet it is consistent with Morgan’s desire to ‘capture the spirit of the content – the only way to produce fresh work’. Morgan likes to work as closely as possible with an artist or author, arguing that ‘you want to make sure you know the content [of a book] better than the client’, and believes fervently that ‘it’s impossible to produce good work with bad content’. In a world where design is increasingly becoming the content itself, creating a cyclical feedback loop that degrades still further with each revolution, designers like John Morgan provide a welcome – and necessary – counterpoint.

Tanya Harrod, ‘Working on utopia’ in Domus, 865 (2003), pp.100–105

Bartholomew Road in Kentish Town, North London, is the home of the Workplace Co-operative 115 Ltd. As a project it falls into a recognisable European pattern of urban renewal in which a derelict light industrial building is reconfigured as a creative space. But it is unusual because of the way in which it reifies the ideals held by its initiators, Dan Monck and Duncan Kramer of Material (who designed the building); the typographer, writer and founder of the Hyphen Press, Robin Kinross; and the graphic designer John Morgan. Their thinking, set out in various manifesto-like statements, identifies the building as a place for ‘good work’, the creation of ‘real wealth in both things and ideas’, ‘social and economic equality’ and ‘good stewardship of the environment’. Less solemnly, frequent mention is made of ‘conviviality’ and ‘delight’. The language derives from a loosely connected radical tradition, taking in John Ruskin, William Morris, Peter Kroptkin, W.R. Lethaby, Ivan Illich and the Christian anarchist furniture designer Norman Potter. Potter is the Pindar of the studio, and 115 Bartholomew Road is a hymn to workshop practice in the tradition of Gerrit Rietveld and Jean Prouvé. It also reminds us that an artisanal approach was as much a part of the modern movement as advanced technology. Cue to James Stirling’s shocked response to the low-tech nature of Le Corbusier’s Maison Jaoul being constructed with ‘ladders, hammers and nails’ in the early 1950s.

Download full article

Mike Figgis and Stuart Bailey, ‘Rushes from In the Dark’ in Dot Dot Dot, 6 (2002), pp.9–22

It must be useful to have a name like Godard. The first three letters work well and in reverse form ‘dog’, which if you add ‘me’ also becomes significant.
–Mike Figgis on Jean-Luc Godard

This opening line to a short piece for The Guardian was the first time I consciously came across the British film-maker Mike Figgis. Essentially a passionate appraisal of Jean-Luc Godard’s new film Eloge d’Amour, the article’s use of the term ‘avantgarde’ seemed oddly casual for 2001, though I later realised that Figgis consistently treads pretentious ground in an unpretentious way. Like everyone else, I’d unconsciously come across him through his only real box office success, Leaving Las Vegas, whose rough aesthetic and plotless drift predated the first Dogme films by a year or so, though without all the militancy and media-baiting. 

At the time Figgis was also busy promoting his own new release, Hotel, alongside the compilation of a book documenting the experimental digital techniques that had driven his recent work. With lucky synchronicity, his publishers proposed as designer John Morgan, who had just set a Dogma-based project at St. Martin’s School of Art with a similar palindromic motto: DOGMA I AM GOD. (Although the shared interests are obvious, there is no official connection between Figgis and the Dogme brotherhood; he even sardonically cast a hapless Dogme-style film crew in Hotel.) Now on the verge of publication, In the Dark looks and reads like an informal scientific research report, essentially a picture-book stuffed with notes at once specific and general: working methods which are instructive beyond their cinematic origins. The following extracts from the book trace the meandering development of Figgis’s personal working method; a back-to-zero inventiveness best exemplified here by his hijacking of the graphic form of music paper in order to visualise the four-camera splitscreen in Timecode. This lateral thinking resulted in a working format so appropriate that it was re-used to propel subsequent projects. Figgis’s account is full of similar examples of effects turning into causes, here supplemented with a variety of documents lifted directly from the In the Dark – scripts, letters, reviews etc. – quoted out of context in an attempt to illustrate various points in the text.

What stimulates [him] is ways of doing things, and technical processes, not things to be done.
–Wyndham Lewis on James Joyce

Is there a way of writing that a body of work, a personal approach or attitude can be more significant than its individual parts, without sounding apologetic? Most people seem to share the view that the idea of Figgis’s films are better than the reality. From what little I’ve seen I agree, though I’d like to imagine he would too. The criticisms are pretty obvious: techniques always overshadow narrative. Hotel’s ‘story’, for example, revolves around the more-or-less random interactions of a Venice hotel staff (a secret police vampire sect) and their guests (a Dogme crew filming a Heathcote Williams play). From there it is both difficult and unnecessary to describe it any more detail. Visually and structurally, however, it is packed with attention-seeking devices, including two- or four-way splitscreens with multiple angles or simultaneous action, hand-held digital cameras, night vision, fast-forwarding pixels etc, etc.

I’d suspected as much, and had decided to limit my appreciation of Hotel to the book-of-the-film, but curiosity got the better of me. Down at Cult Video I did a mental double-take at the DVD cover [below left]. This new portrayal of the film was so far removed from Morgan’s In the Dark book design and some of his Figgis-sanctioned publicity I’d seen that I thought I’d been given the wrong box until I found Figgis’s name. Timecode never even made public release. Knowing Hotel would never sell on reputation alone – even as an arthouse film in the wake of its critical mauling – the DVD publisher’s only option was to fake it, covering as many angles as possible by selling it as some sort of gothic-sex-horror crossover with a cover aping the graphic style of the opening sequence of David Fincher’s Se7en: scratchy, abused type, and blended, layered imagery – the accepted graphic clichés of perversion and fantasy. Its most saleable star, Salma Hyeck, graces the cover despite being present in approximately five percent of the film. Her expression illustrates one of the cover’s floating descriptions pain’, though she actually plays a spoilt Hollywood brat – the only pain involved is strictly aural.

Morgan’s poster, on the other hand, immediately conveys both the overall atmosphere and technical processes – the pixelated, digital roughness and use of hand-held night vision cameras. The type refers to film scripts, and the title is rendered vertically, hotel-style. In 1995 Von Trier and Vinterberg stated that their Dogme manifesto was ‘exclusively aimed at the fllmmaking process (“the making of”) and not the “afterlife” e.g. PR, marketing and distribution’, but it’s instructive to see here what happens when the spirit is followed through. Do the two always have to be mutually exclusive?

Robin Kinross, ‘Common Worship: chapter & verse’ in Baseline, 33 (2001), pp.29–36

Printing and religion have a long and intimately connected history. The first book to be printed from movable type was a Bible, and ever since then the faiths – especially the Christian faith – have been carried, developed, spread, and challenged by this marvellous human invention. For a typographer, the chance to design a new edition of one of the central books of worship must surely be a forbidding task. At the designer’s back is a great legacy of publication, the bulk of it from the centuries before ‘design’ came to be a profession separate from the editing of texts and the printing of them. It would seem wrong to impose ‘design’ on such a book. Rather, the book should be allowed to design itself. That is an old credo, and one with which Derek Birdsall and John Morgan, the designers of this new work, have long been familiar. Though still in his twenties, Morgan grew up with this precept as a student of typography at the University of Reading. Birdsall’s career is now in its fourth decade and he has vast experience. But in no other of the jobs he has tackled can this injunction have been more deeply true.

The new edition of the Church of England Prayer Book, called Common Worship, was published last November. It represents the fruit of years of discussion over what this central instrument of the Church’s liturgy should be. Much more than a simple collection of prayers, the book is in fact a compilation of texts of several kinds, and given a structure that may baffle an outsider. The great, founding Prayer Book for the Church of England was Thomas Cranmer’s work of 1549. Those texts are still there in the book of 2000. But to the old words, the new work adds the updatings and revisions of recent years. Despite its revisionism, Common Worship has the feeling of being a much more solid book than its immediate predecessor, the Alternative Service Book of 1980. In large part this is due to the dignity of its design.

In presenting Common Worship here, we have wanted to give some sense of the process of its design. This was exceptionally intensive and fast-paced. The job took just over a year, from the first invitation to a number of possible designers, to the final publication of the book in its several editions and formats. On its publication in November 2000, a memorable exhibition on the new book and its design was put on at the St Bride Printing Library, London. Here too, an emphasis was given to the stages along the way to the final design. It is a view that is still too little taken, but it is a necessary one. For the design of something is the process of its design. 

The job was given to Omnific on the basis of this proposal. Though the page size would change, the essential elements of the final design are here. The typeface Gill Sans is used in a range of weights and styles. Thus: the bold weight is used for the words spoken by the whole congregation, medium is for words spoken just by the reader, light is used in the ‘footlines’. Red printing is deployed for major headings and for all the instructional texts. The use of italics for instructions, in addition to the colour difference, anticipates the needs of readers who cannot distinguish black from red. Words are not broken, and, further, even the prose passages in the book will be set unjustified. On the left of pages, a margin is reserved for ‘outriggers’ (in the jargon). Mostly these will be the word ‘All’, which the client was ready to drop, but which was retained and indeed fearlessly repeated to become an almost subliminal prompt to the congregation. Headings in the text are ranged from the right of the measure. Much of the book consists of short lines ranged from the left, leaving space on the right, which these headings happily occupy. The size of the main text is 9 point, which gets most of the longest lines in, with line increments of 12 points, which accommodates most of the deepest prayers.

Some of the changes to note, from the proposal of October 1999, are as follows. The paper is an ivory shade. The page size is enlarged, so that it can take more lines without the need to break the texts. The Creed, one of the central prayers of the liturgy, as well as one of the longest, was taken as a test case. The principle of starting texts at the top of a page, however short they may fall, was established already in the first proposal. Page numbers, which are one of the essential wayfinding aids in the book, are given more prominence, in bold. In the Holy Communion section, as shown here, the footline and page numbers are printed in red: an economical method of distinguishing this part from the rest of the book (a less elegant alternative would have been to print a red band bleeding off the edge of the page). A side margin on the right of the main column is introduced. Page numbers are placed here, as well as occasional side-headings, which are ranged right on the (backed-up) measure. But, where lines of the main text are long, they can run into this space. Finally, the paragraph mark or pilecrow (¶) is introduced, as a visual support to headings. This follows traditional practice.

On the front cover, the title of the book is given visual form. If happens that the two words of the main title are of nearly equal length, and meet at the central point of the key word in the sub-title (‘Church’) when that is turned to form a vertical line. Here, as throughout the book, words are treated with respect, a certain asymmetry is accepted without worry, and visual effects follow effortlessly. Red (‘Sarum’ red, Pantone 485, suggested by the Bishop of Salisbury) is used throughout the book and so is available as a free colour to make divider pages. The effect of quiet luxury is heightened by purple end-papers, and red and blue ribbon markers. Several variations are played on the basic structure of the central column with margins on each side, including two and also three-column setting.


Specification (Standard edition) 202 × 125 mm. 864 pp. 300,000 copies printed, web-offset in 2 colours by Splichal, Belgium, on S5 gsm Primapages Ivory: bound in Miradur imitation leather at Splichal. 50k bound in Cabra bonded-leather and/or in calfskin (slip-cased) at Cambridge University Press from book-blocks supplied by Splichal. 50k held as sewn book-blocks for later binding in varying styles. Two ribbons. Published by Church House Publishing, November 2000.

Design & typesetting Omnific: Derek Birdsall RDI, John Morgan, Shirley Birdsall (née Thompson), Elsa Birdsall

Go to project.

Selected texts by John Morgan

Click entry to expand texts

‘Ulysses’ in the Blue Revue (2018), pp.42–43

Shut your eyes and see. See a blue I have tried to reach many times in my own practice. It’s the blue James Joyce devised for the first edition of Ulysses, with white type to signify the colours of sea, sky and Greece. Joyce explained in a letter (quoted in translation) to Alessandro Francini Bruni: ‘The colours of the binding (chosen by me) will be white letters on a blue field – the Greek flag though really of Bavarian origin and imported with the dynasty. Yet in a special way they symbolise the myth well – the white islands scattered over the sea’. Ulysses was published in fragile but beautiful form under the imprint of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris on the 2nd of February 1922 – the author’s fortieth birthday. Arriving at the exact shade of blue Joyce desired was a lengthy and arduous process for Maurice Darantière, an established printer in Dijon. His search took him to Germany where he discovered the right blue but the wrong paper. Material colour – perhaps a little more honest than printed colour – couldn’t be found, so he solved the problem by lithographing the colour onto white stock, leaving a thin white edge and the reverse unprinted. A mythical blue, out of which white chiselled Elzévir capitals rise like the rocks of Ithaca, or do they float as William H Gass sees them, ‘like a chain of white islands, petals shaken on a Greek sea.’

‘Blanche ou l’Oubli / Blanche or Forgetting’ in Typojanchi Seoul (2013)

Like many archetypes, the design of the celebrated collection Blanche/White published by the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF) and Gallimard is the result of compound sensibilities – the taste and direction of the founders, which included André Gide and Jean Schlumberger – and the implementation by the printer Edouard Verbeke of the St. Catherine Press in Bruges. 

There’s a collectively inherited idea of what constitutes a ‘Blanche’ – an off-white cover stock which gives the collection its name, a paperback you can hold comfortably in your hand but perhaps not in your pocket, a single black ruled frame containing a double red frame, centred text alignment, a title coloured red, the author’s name in black and the publisher’s italicised NRF device. The specific peculiarities are harder to define. Which white or cream exactly? Was it always this colour or has time taken its toll? Text set in a high-contrast Didone or a Garalde? Titles set all in capitals or upper and lowercase, roman or italic? A warm typographic orange or a deep blood red? 

Like the narrator of Aragon’s Blanche ou l’Oubli / Blanche or Forgetting who attempts to recall his love for Blanche, a woman he loved some 40 years ago, we can forget what our love looks like, and over time her appearance changes. Here we attempt to capture an image of the Blanche collection. In this attempt to find the truth about the past, we are left in a state of uncertainty – though still in love with Blanche, we don’t quite know who she is.

Our selection classifies over 400 books into 25 thematic sections named after a book title within that theme. Within Pastiches et Mélanges we see the nuances and evolution in design of the same titles through time, in this case Gide’s Les Nourritures terrestres / The Fruits of the Earth from 1937 to 1951, and Mallarmé’s Poésies from 1917 to 1941. Nouvelles du cœur / News from the Heart gives us Breton’s L’Amour fou / Mad Love, the obsessional kind of love that deranges the senses and two episodes of Le Crève-cœur / Heartbreak from Aragon. Un nom toujours nouveau / A Name Always New gathers Elsa, Barny, Nadja, Héloise, Tristan, Anny, Sylvia, Creezy and Isabelle amongst others. Those without a home, the orphans, or the difficult are housed in Fils de personne / Nobody’s son. Here we place both L’Enfant de chœur / The Choirboy and Le Pire / The Worst.

Go to project.

Download full article

‘Common Ground. A letter from Venice’ in Eye blog (2012) (unedited)

The Venetian stencil street signs or Nizioletti don’t prevent you getting lost in the labyrinth, but they do comfort you or allow you to get lost in the most elegant way. They speak to you not in an Italian but a Venetian dialect – ‘Calle’ rather than ‘Via’. Given their frequency, that they don’t irritate or disturb is a measure of their visual properties – they must be the most beautiful of city sign systems (closely followed by the v-incised Bath street names defined by light and shade alone). The stencil text is contained in a white plaster panel – Nizioletti means ‘white sheet or cover’ – roughly framed in black. The text is also painted black, but the black like so much in Venice has undertones of blue, a prussian blue (the blue used in blueprints) or a black water. Your eye follows the white rectangle through an apartment window to align with the Venetian ceiling ribbed with beams. The sheets which stack like sails when there’s lots to say, expand and contract to fit the content. There’s a hierarchy in size, the larger type of a sestiere (district) would sit above a smaller bridge label. The black blue text switches to brick red for key directional signs (and a more recent garish yellow reflective version). These point with a beautiful arrow, whose head is spliced from its own tail, leaving the bony silouette of a vorticist fish.

These forms were irresistible to me when David Chipperfield, the Director of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, invited my studio to create a graphic identity for ‘Common Ground’. The body of work spanned across four publications, exhibition graphics, signage, posters, printed matter and more uniquely banners for bridges and wraps for Vaporettos. The theme Common Ground celebrated interconnected architectural culture and explored the things architects have in common, from the conditions of practice, to influences, collaborations and histories.

At first I saw no reason why the graphic identity should have its roots in Venice. I’d always thought of the Biennale as self-contained, but Venice is impossible to ignore, and the Nizioletti, like the Biennales, are an integral part of the city fabric. Our use of the Nizioletti was an attempt, like the sweat and tears of the contractors, to merge with this watery city. There are shared common associations with architects and stencils, part of the attraction being that stencils appear built and engineered (see Eric Kindel’s Fit to be Seen, Stencils for Architects, Engineers and Surveyors, in AA Files 61, designed by John Morgan studio). The zinc stencils (still) manufactured by Thévenon & Cie are now emblematic of Corbusier. More significantly, stencils have traditionally been used as a convenient and economical form of ‘public lettering’ as ‘everyday letters’ (literally ‘lettres a jour’, through which you see daylight when held up). More crucially on a practical level for our exhibition design, here is a letterform perfectly suited to signage and public notices of a temporary nature. When applied as a stencil there’s a painterly quality that can’t be matched by vinyl.

It seems likely the Nizioletti stencil system dates from Napolean’s occupation, and we see similar typeforms produced by Jean Gabriel Bery in Paris from c.1781. There are the inevitable variations in letterform through time too. Our stencil was far from a faithful revival or reflection (that would be the ultimate narcissistic action in this most vain of cities). Through a process of reflection and refraction we produced a letterform that was similar but not the same. We picked and mixed those characters that suited us, focusing on those with the highest frequency in the title, selecting an ‘O’ with a perverse double cut, and an ‘R’ with a loose curled tail (clipped from the mane of St Mark’s lion). 

I moved with my family and set up studio in San Polo for August. The stencil was both sprayed and paint-stamped using a vinyl mask throughout the Giardini central pavilion and the Arsenale. I discovered the prod of a sweaty Italian contractor, followed by a ‘capito?’ would destroy the walls of the exhibition site and reveal the many layers of Biennales that had gone before. I learnt the preferred future solution was a bullet proof digital print out, and an espresso freddo on Via Garibaldi, the paved over canal that links the two exhibition sites. In the weeks leading to the Biennale and through the Vernissage, the Common Ground graphic material began to cover the waterfront, posters at Rialto (the ‘huge marble parenthesis of a bridge’ Brodsky), over the grand canal on the wooden Ponte dell’ Accademia, outside the gothic palazzo of the Biennale offices at Ca’ Giustinian (San Marco) and travelling to the Lido and back on a Vaporetto.

The ideas behind the Biennale have shelf life in a critical reader, a book bound in brick red with endpapers in marble grey. In a city full to the brim with photographers we introduced another, Jürgen Teller, to record and celebrate the Vernissage in a magazine to be published later this month.

In the weeks leading to the Biennale and through the Vernissage, the ‘Common Ground’ graphic material began to cover the waterfront – posters at Rialto, over the grand canal on the wooden Ponte dell’ Accademia, outside the gothic palazzo of the Biennale offices at Ca’ Giustinian (San Marco) and wrapping vaporettos on journeys to and from the Lido. Like the sweat and tears of the exhibitors and contractors, the Common Ground identity began to merge with the city.

Edited version available at Eye magazine blog.

Go to project.

‘In conversation with Sally Potter’ in AA files, 61 (2010), pp.73–78

In conversation with Sally Potter

Like the alignment of text in this layout, Norman Potter’s approach to life and work could be best summed up as ‘ranged left and open-ended’. My first encounter with Potter came in the form of What is a Designer, first published in 1969 and since enlarged, edited and republished by Robin Kinross’s Hyphen Press and translated into several languages. Potter’s book was intended for students ‘of all ages coming freshly to their subject’. Through his many years of teaching, he was all too aware that a useful education is ‘frequently offered to the wrong people at the wrong age for the wrong reasons’. As a design student I was looking for ways to balance the conflicts and contradictions between formal education and the practice of graphic design. In many ways the book is a kind of specification manual for survival. It offers answers – as well as raising more questions, and inevitably the design questions are political ones. To join hands with Potter – something offered to the reader in the most generous and understanding way – is to connect to a line of critical practitioners and thinkers (his favourites being Lethaby, Ashbee, Geddes, Read, Kropotkin, Mumford and Schumacher). Design here is a social activity about relation-seeking and ‘good work’ is encouraged. Unusually for a design book – an area of study overladen with slick picture books – it contains no images and gives good reasons for this. Potter’s second book, Models & Constructs (1990), is much more personal, reflecting on his life and work as a poet, designer and maker. He is described on the book jacket as ‘the English Rietveld’ and as a ‘social realist abstract sculptor’. In the current climate, the books have acquired renewed relevance. Voices like his are sadly becoming increasingly rare. I met his daughter, the filmmaker Sally Potter – just back from her retrospective exhibition at MoMA – in her east London home, and by talking around and about Norman we began to develop his position. NP is here, speaking in a bolder voice from the margins, letting the text do its own thing.

Go to project.


Download full article

‘Class Consciousness’ in Grafik, 171 (2009), p.54

Author, publisher, printer, typographer. I’ve chosen occupation in this case to be an indicator of social class (there are many others: income, education, wealth, taste etc). At what point did the ‘typographer’ emerge? Joseph Moxon in his Mechanick Exercises gave us perhaps the very first definition: ‘By a typographer, I do not mean a printer, as he is vulgarly accounted, any more than Dr Dee means a carpenter or mason to be an architect’ (1683–84). This sets the tone.

Following the ‘master printers’, the editorial function was separated from the print house and subsequently the typographer took the design function away from the compositor. White-collar gentleman-typographers (a male preserve) gave instructions to blue-collar comps. This is mostly a British issue – the history is one of cosy private gentlemans clubs and private presses, the Catholic mafia of Morison and Meynell, the Double Crown Club – a world of gentle refinement and ‘men of taste’. That’s over, thank god.

Where does it leave us now? Typography sits somewhere with the reduced status of a ‘vocational’ course. Within the design/craft field, pottery and textiles have always had a strong middle class following and there’s the occasional semi-aristo who is ‘good with his hands’ but this is not the preferred route. There’s a class-biased sorting mechanism for entry into certain jobs. Kids from wealthy families can take unpaid internships or spend a year abroad. Their consciousness is formed in large part by public schools and select universities. They tend not to become typographers or graphic designers. If you are lucky they may employ the services of a typographer. It’s good at least to know this. Class consciousness matters. 

‘A Note on the Type’ in AA files, 57 (2008), p.82

A note on the type

Introduced by Dennis Bailey in 1982 with AA Files 2 (an issue which established the journal’s graphic template), the masthead for AA Files is set in Big Caslon, a display type subsequently revived by Matthew Carter in 1994, and modelled on a mid-eighteenth-century specimen from the Caslon type foundry. When William Caslon began cutting punches in the early 1720s there was still a tendency in Britain to rely on imported matrices. Caslon took the fashionable Dutch Old Faces as his model (we continue the goût hollandaise in the new body face), and soon the foundry developed an English style (as well as the first sans-serif printing type circa 1816) which would become the standard model for much of the century. In this issue of AA Files we have maintained the Big Caslon masthead type but have made a ligature out of the two As, a contextual, decorative form consistent with other typographic changes inside the journal.

Body Text
The new body face for AA Files is set in Arnhem Blond (not quite light) and the headings in Arnhem Fine, refined, crisper and lighter for larger sizes, designed by Fred Smeijers in 2002. The authors’ names are set in Arnhem Fine italic – the type family member which most clearly shows the influence of eighteenth-century italics produced by the French punch-cutter Pierre Simon Fournier. Writing on Smeijers’ Arnhem typefaces, Andy Crewdson notes that ‘like many of the most enduring modern text typefaces, Arnhem addresses the past in an intelligent way while making a contribution very much of its own time’. Smeijers’ craft-centred approach to type design and the techniques of making type by hand through to the transition to designing digital type are explored in his book Counterpunch (1996).

Display Type
By display we mean the category of type devised for highlighting particular words and letters rather than for continuous reading. The innovations by English punch-cutters in this category of letter form were first developed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century to meet the demands of commerce, print and monumental inscriptions. Many of the new nineteenth-century display letter forms originated with sign writers and architects – reversed type on a black background work like stucco inlays on a Regency building; shadowed and shaded letters appear as heavy relief architectural lettering; and perhaps the origin of all nineteenth- and twentieth-century sans-serif letter forms can be found in John Soane’s architectural drawings from 1780. Yet within the many novel variants of form, colour and contrast found in Tuscans, sans-serifs and Egyptians (the three essential variants within any typeface) there appears to be a shared letter form – what James Mosley has called the English vernacular. Mosley, as librarian at the St Bride’s Printing Library on Fleet Street, expanded his thesis that there was an unselfconscious vernacular tradition in letter forms which grew out of the lettering used by sign writers and cutters of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gravestones. He called it English vernacular because it was largely free from outside influences.

Its development, however, was interrupted by the broad-pen lettering of Edward Johnston’s writing manual and the establishment of the ‘Trajan Norm’. The Architectural Room set up at the South Kensington Museum in 1862 (which survives in the present V&A) provided a plaster cast of the Trajan column. The much-admired inscription on its base became the model for inscriptional lettering. W.R. Lethaby, in his role as principal of the Central School of Arts and Crafts, had a copy made for his students and with it the ‘Trajan norm’, an imperial model, was established. Too often this led to a dull, stereotyped classical letter (as used and encouraged by municipal architects and by the Ministry of works on all public monuments) and to the demise of the fat-faces – Egyptians, Tuscans and Grotesques – in both public lettering and type founding. There have been revivals – notably the early nineteenth-century Egyptian types at the 1951 Festival of Britain, where a British model (‘as British as an early locomotive’, according to Mosley) was felt more fitting than the incised Classical Roman norm.

Our plan for this and future issues of AA Files is to explore and develop the English vernacular in display types with Paul Barnes (co-designer of the new Guardian newspaper Egyptian body face). This is not an attempt to produce a pastiche historical type family but rather to continue to explore the once vital variations on the theme of the English vernacular and see what new ideas this stimulates. We have begun quietly, with aversion of Caslon foundry sans and Italian. The much-abused, so-called ‘Italian’ semi ornamental type shown on these pages, ‘an Egyptian with horizontal stress and extra serifs reversed and joined to the letter by a point; a crude expression of an idea of perversity’ according to Nicolete Gray in Nineteenth-Century Ornamented Typefaces, 1938. Unashamedly we have added a shadow, lending three-dimensional form to perversity.

Go to project.

Download full article

‘John Morgan Studio – Horst P. Horst’ in Grafik, 149 (2007), pp.44–47

With a cast of characters that includes Dalí, Dietrich and Coco Chanel (not to mention some of the most exquisite nudes and still lifes you've ever clapped eyes on), designing a book of photographs by Horst P. Horst is a delectable task. Here John Morgan explains how his studio met the challenge of celebrating 100 years of Horst.

Horst P. Horst, Noël Coward, Coco Chanel, Salvador Dalí, Marlene Dietrich, Lisa Fonssagrives (the original supermodel), the Mainbocher corset, and Yves St Laurent. Who else: Tim Jefferies (director of Hamiltons gallery), Andy Cowan, Gert Elfering (owner of the Horst estate), Tom Ford, Philippe Garner, Marlin Lee (print production), Barry Lakey and Simon Appleton (B+M printers).

A year after Horst's first exhibition at Hamiltons, Tim Jefferies and Andy Cowan commissioned a series of platinum prints of Horst’s favourite photographs. As Philippe Garner explains, platinum printing involves a commitment to chemistry and to craft: ‘Its seductive qualities are ascribable to the fact that the chemicals, and in turn the image, are permeated into the thickness of the paper, rather than sitting in a flat emulsion on the surface. The platinum permits an exceptional intensity, so the blacks, infused through the paper, seem to have an infinite depth. The platinum further allows for the softest and subtlest gradation of mid-tones.’

The brief was to produce a book to celebrate 100 years of Horst. We selected work from each decade between 1933 and 1989. This would include his most famous photograph, of the Mainbocher corset (Chanel had taken the corset out of fashion but Mainbocher reintroduced it in 1939), the last he made prior to leaving Paris before the war. David Fincher’s Madonna Vogue video paid direct tribute to this trademark image. By all accounts the handsome and symmetrically named Horst P. Horst had innate elegance and style. As Tom Ford puts it in his foreword, ‘Everything about Horst resonates with true style, and that to my mind is irresistible.’ Horst moved from a childhood in Germany to an apprenticeship with Le Corbusier in Paris, to French Vogue, then to New York and American Vogue.

These are the sorts of design decisions that interest me: What size should a book be? How thick should the spine be in relation to the page size? Should the photographs hang from a top margin or be visually centred? Should there be two drops to hang from? Should the inner margin be bigger to allow for pinch? They are not big gestures – I want the result to look effortless. What about typefaces? In a self-referential way a Modern with high contrast is the obvious choice for a book about high fashion. A thin Didot for the headlines and a slightly thicker Bodoni for text. A longer line length than normally comfortable, set ragged, Expert numerals (a little perverse with a Modern, but appropriate in this case). What clothes should modern man wear? The direction here is eclectic tradition. Nietzsche talks about one type of modern man who ‘needs history because it is the storage closet where all the costumes are kept. He notices that none really fit him, so he keeps on trying on more and more, unable to accept the fact that a modern man can never really look well dressed.’ When it came to the paper, I’d always wanted to use Monadnock – it’s one of those papers that, although considered uncoated, takes ink well and still feels papery without the ink sinking in too much, which flattens the colour. The warm yellow colour was a perfect match for the platinum originals. As for the binding, in the spirit of Horst’s Oyster Bay apartment, our ideal would be a coarse hessian cloth.

Our edit reduced 100 photographs to 72, 45 and finally to 29. This made for a more concentrated 72 pages. The originals were insured and shipped from Miami. The unique platinum originals varied in colour and paper tone. We chose to print triton, a black with two greys, accepting that variations would be lost in reproduction as the prints conform to the chosen colours. Our standard was the slightly warmer and yellower Barefoot Beauty. Our tight deadline (three months from brief to finished product is not long for a book with such high production values) ensured we kept the content and design simple and chose to produce the book in the UK.

Quantity / 2,000 copies (four editions of 500 copies)
Format / 350 × 310 mm
Extent / 72 pages
Prints scanned on Agfa XY 15 scanner as greyscales. Some scanned in multiple

parts and joined in Photoshop. Greyscale images converted to Tritone EPSs in

Photoshop (main colour/supporting 3/4 colour/black-limited to 30% to enhance


Intermediate internal check proofs produced on Epson 9600 using GMG Rip –

prior to wet proofs on SM 102 (3 rounds)

Imposed via Trueflow – CTP plates produced on Dai Nippon SCREEN PTR

8000 using Spekta 2 screening-350, on Fuji Brillia LH-Ple plates.

Print Machine / Heidelberg Speedmaster 1025 colour + Coater Inks/Sun Chemical

Gibbons: Black + 2 Greys 

Text material / Monadnock Caress 216 gsm 

Slipcase material / Bamberger Record 254/216 pfeffer 

Case material / Bamberger Record 254/205 basalt 

Endpaper material / Fedrigoni Freelife Merida, Ochre 140 gsm 

Head + Tail Bands / Intercover 687 Burgundy 

Sale Price / S100

‘An account of the making of Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England’ in Typography Papers, 5 (2003), pp.33–64

This paper, compiled from first-hand experience of the job, tells the story of the making of Common Worship. The design process is revealed in documents and artefacts pulled from the shallows of everyday exchanges between designers, clients and readers. By ‘thinking-out-loud’ and placing design procedures in their normal context, this article aims to let the job speak for itself.

Download full article

‘Letter to Freedom’ in Dot Dot Dot, 3 (2001), p.7


from  John Morgan:

     to  Freedom fortnightly, Freedom Press, 84b Whitechapel High Street,

          London E1 7QX





‘The Procrustean bed’* 


Dear Freedom

In typography, can you see an anarchist concern for the just allocation of spaces? 

The text presented to the reader of Freedom is frozen into authoritarian, justified blocks. Variations in word and letter spacing create rivers of white space which sacrifice the natural flow of reading in order to achieve a formal neat edged column. Text to look at rather than read. Spaces between words should be equal. 

The typographic language is wrong for an anarchist publication. The text typeface used is Times New Roman (the Roman Imperial Trajan model fixed in the capitals) developed by Stanley Morison specially for the Times Newspaper and their demanding production conditions. More objectional is the distortion of heading type, stretched and squeezed and ‘made to fit’ over text columns. 

I would suggest an approach ranged left and open-ended, while taking care not to confuse stylistic trivia with the spirit of a joint enterprise – the production and activity of ‘attractive work’.

yours sincerely

John Morgan 

*Eric Gill in An Essay on Typography (first published 1931), referred to the Compositor’s Stick as the ‘Procrustean Bed’ because wide spacing was the easiest way to achieve equal length of lines. In Greek mythology: Procrustes, a robber, stretched or lopped off the limbs of travellers so they fitted in his bed.

Download full article

‘The Vow of Chastity’ in Dot Dot Dot, 3 (2001), p.33

The Vow of Chastity

I swear to submit (for the period of this project) to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by DOGMA 2001:

1. Content matters: design nothing that is not worth reading.* The job should speak for itself (if it doesn’t the designer hasn’t learnt to listen). Books showing pictures of other designers’ work must not be referred to (unless as part of a critical study).


2. Images must not be used unless they refer directly to the text. (Illustrations must be positioned where they are referred to in the text; foot/side notes must be positioned on same page as the text they refer to).

3. The book must be hand-held (and designed from the inside out). ‘Coffee-table books’ are not acceptable.

4. The first text colour shall be black; the second colour red. Special colours, varnish and lamination are not acceptable.

5. Photoshop/Illustrator filters are forbidden.

6. The design must not contain superficial elements. (maximise the data-ink ratio, no chart junk)

7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the design takes place here and now. No pastiche)

8. Genre design is not acceptable. (no ‘smile in the mind’. Leave graphic wit to comedians. No thoughtless application of style.)

9. Formats must not be ‘A’ sizes. Paper must be chlorine free. It must be off-white.

10. The designer must not be credited (unless all other workers are also credited). Designing and making is collective work.


St Martins, London, Monday 26 February 2001
The 1st year students on behalf of DOGMA 2001
(John Morgan)

*for more on this, see Paul Stiff’s Dogma lists.

Download full article

6a architects
Ambit magazine
Architectural Association
Barbican gallery
Barozzi Veiga
Booth-Clibborn Editions
British Library
British Museum
Caruso St John Architects
Church of England
City of Ljubljana
Crafts Council
David Chipperfield Architects
Design Museum, London
DRDH Architects
Edmund de Waal
Enitharmon Press
Four Corners Books
Fundación Jumex
Garry Fabian Miller
Hamiltons gallery
Hayward Gallery
Hayward Publishing
Helen Marten
Hidde Van Seggelen gallery
Invisible University
Judith Clark Costume gallery
Koenig books
Museo Jumex
Museum Fridericianum
New Art Centre
Phaidon Press
Phillips de Pury
Raven Row gallery
Richard Nagy
Ron Arad Architects
Royal Academy
Royal Drawing School
Royal Society of Arts
Roz Barr Architects
Ryan Gander
Sadie Coles HQ
Serpentine Gallery
Soane Museum
Sternberg Press
Studio Tom Emerson
Tate Britain
Tate Publishing
The Artist’s Institute
things magazine
Thomas Grünfeld
Turner Contemporary
Wellcome Trust
White Cube gallery

Programming by Studio Scasascia


Photography by Michael Harvey, Ed Park, David Grandorge, Nik Adam

© 2017 JMS