johnson banks Printed Stuff Stamps & Products

This project for a set of stamps actually started back in the 1990s with a series of design ideas that were a bit ahead of their time and were quickly shelved. When the brief returned as a set of ‘interactive’ stamps loosely aimed at children, technology had moved on and we were able to suggest these: ten nicely photographed fruit and vegetable stamps, accompanied by 72 stickers.

The idea was that you could create your own vegetable faces (inspired at our end by Archimboldo, fuzzy felt and Mr Potato head). Here are our, very neat, graphic designer examples. Some of the designs done by the ‘Great British Public’ were considerably more unhinged, but that in a way was the fun of it. One magazine called them the ‘true democratisation of stamp design’, which was a good point.

Our next stamp project involved some great British icons, The Beatles. Our brief was actually to explore the merchandise surrounding the band. We duly did this, and started assiduously collecting old Beatle badges. Simultaneously we couldn't help returning to the album covers, looking at those iconic designs and wondering.

At first we had meant to take a pile of albums and photograph them on suitably sixties backgrounds (fluffy carpets, linoleum and suchlike) then as we prepared the pictures realised that the irregular sets of album covers worked almost better on their own. Luckily we were able to persuade the Royal Mail that the asymmetric, irregular edges could be perforated too.

ο»Ώο»Ώο»ΏThe other collateral followed the style of the stamps, so here’s the first day cover that ‘reveals’ the vinyl when you open it up.

The original merchandise brief also found an outlet with this ‘stamp sheet' that featured some of the strangest collectable stuff that surrounded the band. Yes, you really could buy a Beatles wig, lunchbox, guitar strings and shoes.

Having done these high-profile stamp projects, when invited by the V&A museum to take part in their famous summer fete (where designers and artists set up stalls for the weekend in their courtyard) we decided to set up a temporary post-office. As you do.

We needed something to sell at our ‘post office' and a slightly unhinged conversation about the phrase ‘send a letter' led to these, 26 double weight punch-cut letter-shaped postcards

These were sold either as single letters, or as alphabets, and have proved popular enough for a second edition (read about the 2007 fete here).

The postal ‘pun’ theme continued with this set of airmail based on old aerogramme paper, and shaped as things that could fly, including bats, planes and pterodactyls.

Sold singly or as sets of eight, it was another successful year at the fete. Especially for the most popular design, the flying pig. Both items will soon be on sale in our on-line shop, here.

Sometimes projects have unintentionally pulled us into product design. More than a decade ago when working with the British Council's education department, we realised that they had over 900 classrooms worldwide that were notoriously difficult to ‘brand' in a cost-effective way. As part of a project that included poster sets and teaching aids, we designed a series of ‘British' clocks that could be sent worldwide and function as mini history lessons in their own right.

After an exhibition of our work was held in Tokyo in 2004, we received an annual request to take part in a product design/decoration project for the Creation Gallery in Ginza. Here we were given a blank ‘fan' and asked to make it appeal to a younger audience, so our design takes all the ‘cool' blues and greens out of the colour palette and shows them as swatches.

One of the earliest requests from the gallery was to design a pair of trousers. Struggling with our Japanese numbers at the time, we designed these ‘counting' trousers which fused the Japanese with numerals (they read ichi, ni, san, shi, go roku, nana, hachi).

Then came a canvas bag, whose handles we requisitioned in order to show hurtling projectiles.

The next year, given a tea cup and saucer, we wanted to see what a ‘T' cup would look like.

Then, for the final year of the series, an umbrella designed to protect in a storm yet highlight the perils of a globally-warmed planet.

Occasionally we get to dabble in actual 3D design. Having designed the mark for Microsoft’s new advertising awards, Mouse, which features a ‘mouse’ shape knocked out of the word, we then devised the award itself.

They are meticulously cut by computer out of blocks of aluminium, then their bases are etched with the winners' names.

Another opportunity to take a break from everyday graphic design comes annually with the challenge of the company Christmas card. We’ve got quite a bit of form in this area (covered in this ‘Thought for the week post), but the design that fits best with this section is this truly strange offering that used the peculiar ‘apology’ bags that the Royal Mail uses to forward opened or torn mail.

We decided to painstakingly recreate the corners and edges of a series of highly desirable objects, gadgets and items, ranging from Viagra packs and early iPhones to Madonna tickets. Amazingly, some people were actually fooled‘¦

Perhaps appalled by just how much time and effort (and paper) that idea took up, we then set about finding a new theme for our annual cards that could be as ‘green’ as possible. The solution was to carefully ram-punch spare magazines that were clogging up the studio, into suitably ‘christmassy’ shapes.

So far we've done snowmen, angels and Christmas trees. If we're really feeling smart we can carefully select the right magazine for the right recipient. It's become a great way to send personalised and completely recycled cards, whilst clearing up the office at the same time.