Review of the year, 2012

The votes are in, the mails and tweets read and analysed, so it’s time for the johnson banks Review of the Year, 2012.

Designer of the year
Well, we reckon that’s a shoo-in for a Mr Thomas Heatherwick, with a really great show at the V&A of his life’s work, a hefty tome just out through The Monacelli Press and of course ‘that cauldron’ at the Olympics. Maybe, just maybe, at that moment, a whole generation of kids worldwide thought ‘cool’ and wondered if they too could design something like that.

Twerp of the year…
…has to go to Michael Gove, who in a classic ‘tory minister shows just how cut off he is from the real world’ moment decided that teaching design and technology (and the arts in general) wasn’t really terribly useful and proposed that it be cut out of his newly planned English Baccalaureate. Currently this seems designed to teach only Maths, more Maths, Science, Science then English and more English.

Not that we have anything against those subjects, of course, but as we write the UK’s much lauded creative industries sector is vying with finance as most important to the UK economy (depending on whose stats you believe). So those kids dreaming of being the next Heatherwick will somehow have to craft their skills in the margins of their Biology textbooks, or can the idea and go into the City instead. Strikes us as kind of short-sighted. (There’s more on this here).

The ‘phew’ we just about scraped through that award…
…goes to the graphics for the Oympics. On paper this was a disaster waiting to happen – a logo designed 5 years before an anticipated nu-rave boom that never came, a set of pictograms designed in a related yet different style by another firm, then implemented by yet another, using a typeface that was chosen years before then replaced by the London Underground font for the rest.

The general consensus seemed to be one of relief and ‘it didn’t look too bad’. Trouble is (and this is clearly a controversial view written from a country still living in a semi-delusional post-Olympics bubble), some of us dreamed of a scheme that aimed a little higher than ‘it didn’t look too bad’.

The ‘didn’t that go well’ prize…
…goes to most of the UK throughout the Olympics, where, after a day of no medals ‘our boys and girls came good!’ (or something like that). Perhaps it was just a good case-study in expectation management – having been lectured for four years about the perils of holding another ‘austerity olympics’ the fact that it was actually OK was just a huge relief to everyone involved.

Still, at least Mo and Mr Bolt gave us some interesting poses to practice and Danny Boyle has to get some kudos for pulling off the opening ceremony and keep in a longish sequence about the NHS which would have doubtless pissed off all the hard-right Tories sitting on all those committees (and in the audience).

To be fair, the swift segue into the Paralympics was neatly done (cue poster ad above), opened millions of eyes and hearts to the predicament of running or swimming or cycling without a full set of limbs and handily provided us with most people’s ad/promo of the year, Channel Four’s ‘meet the superhumans’, nicely directed by Tom Tagholm.

Amazingly, the ‘head in the sand’ prize still has to go to American TV whose coverage of the Paralympics ran to, er, a 90 minute round-up. And that was it.

And yes, it’s true that NBC commentator Meredith Viera really did say, as Tim Berners-Lee was featured in the opening ceremony “If you haven’t heard of him, we haven’t either”. She then suggested viewers Google him instead (without any sense of irony).

The trend that isn’t going away quickly…
…has to be 3d printing. Admittedly we got pretty engrossed in it ourselves when our Arkitypo project came out at the turn of the year, but it seems to be everywhere.

As the price of 3d printers such as the Maker-bot will drop and drop, who knows where this is all going to end up. One thing’s for sure, we’ll all need to know how to design in 3d pretty soon.

Best music of the year
Once again a pretty eclectic year in the johnson banks studio – but going on ‘number of plays’ our albums of the year would have to be Black Radio by the Robert Glasper Experiment, Radio Music Society by Esperenza Spalding, Fragments by the Submotion Orchestra and Until the quiet comes by Flying Lotus. The Lianne la Havas album got hammered earlier in the year, and on constant rotation has been Bat for Lashes and The Portico Quartet’s 2012 releases. And we agree with Maisie Benson: Call me maybe really was the single of the year.

On a folkier note we’d go for The Staves (Dead & Born & Grown) and The Unthanks’ bizarre sounding but great collaboration with the Brighouse and Rastrick band. Under the ‘really like but we need more time’ would go to Visions by Grimes, Plumb by Field Music and America by Dan Deacon.

Music discovery of the year…
…would have to be the Hidden Orchestra. An amazing swooping cinematic beat driven mash of classical and jazz, if that takes your fancy. And the ‘from the archive’ release of the year would be the Keith Jarrett ‘Sleeper’ album made with his excellent European quartet (that only actually made two studio albums).

Bet we won’t still be playing them in a year’s time
Well, that prize goes to Alt J and Django Django. Sorry. Someone had to say it.

Shocking music decision of the year…
…has to go to the Mercury Music Prize committee for NOT shortlisting Glass Swords by Rustie. Hard to believe.

Gig of the year…
…an eclectic list of nominations from jb towers, ranging from Rustie at Field Day, to Esperanza Spalding at the Festival Hall, to Philip Glass’s 75th birthday at the Barbican. All great.

Our favourite sites, blogs and twitterers
Most useful has to be the rise of Pinterest. Anyone grappling before with bookmaking sites like delicious and scrapbooking sites like FFFound finally has a way to save images and links quickly and easily. Really, really great (and really useful). And now it doesn’t all have to be in public either. Only complaint? Doesn’t seem to like animated gifs (yet). We’ll get over it.

We also really liked Pocket (great for saving links from Twitter without an internet connection) and Lifehacker – ‘tips, tricks and downloads for getting things done’.

In the design field, Brand New continued to supply almost daily rebrand entertainment, even in a year bereft of particularly interesting projects, and Mike Dempsey’s 6 part series on the demise of the design company where he made his name was almost painful to read, yet compelling. Adrian Shaughnessy and Erik Spiekermann continued to tweet like their lives depended on it, but often very usefully, it has to be said.

The Fast Company design site has also steadily provided a stream of great links, articles and tweets all year. Highly recommended.

Web design trend we’re going to see a lot more of…
…has to be parallax scrolling. See here and here. Awesome, really, especially after the enforced diet of HTML 5. It’ll look SO 2012 soon, but who cares. Yes it may well be the new flash, and all of that, but still, it’s fun.

Exhibitions of the year
Always a tough one to adjudicate, given that we all went to different things at different times throughout the year, but going on votes in the studio Hollywood Costume, running now at the V&A, has a lot of votes, as does the small but fascinating show of Thomas Heatherwick’s work.

From the international division there’s a strong hand for the amazing show earlier in the year of Maurizio Cattelan’s life’s work (smartly titled ‘All’) at the Guggenheim and an amazing show of Cai Guo-Qiang’s work on show at Mathaf in Qatar earlier in the year, as pictured above.

Worst ad of the year?

Lots of nominations here, but we’re going to go with Nick Asbury’s suggestions, the Colgate ‘focus group’ offering above, and the hilarious ‘chairs are like Facebook’ piece here.

Smartest ad/promotion link-up
Red Bull sponsoring Felix Baumgartner’s leap out of a spaceship. Love or loathe this kind of high-level branding, it’s not going away soon.

Wish we had one of those…
Well that seems to be a toss-up between at one end the Paul Smith Leica X2 shown above…

…and the tech innovation of the year down at the other end of the spectrum, the Raspberry Pi. This is essentially a computer board that doesn’t even have a casing, let alone a box to keep it in, but, critically retails at just $35 dollars and is designed to bring everyday computing to the fingertips of millions. All those ports allow you to connect the board to just about anything.

We’re all hoping this will be Gove-proof and will finally persuade schools worldwide that grappling with code is surely more useful than learning how to bash together horrendous Powerpoint slides in turgid IT classes. ‘Learning to code’ is on everyone’s New Year’s resolution list, surely?

That looks like a huge waste of money
This new award has to go to the ‘designed’ iPod camera clip-on, thingummy. Just your £199 pounds. Bargain, eh?

Whereas this looks just great.

Film of the Year
Always a bit odd writing these when the hot Oscar tips are just being released (and UK cinema releases lag slightly behind US ones), but our jury preferred Moonrise Kingdom, Argo and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Obviously Life of Pi for special effects. Can’t wait for Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln though.

TV of the year
This seemed to be dominated by Scandinavian doom-laden dramas featuring imperfect-yet-unmissable heroines, from commitment-phobic Lund in The Killing to aspergers suspect Saga Norén in The Bridge. Carrie in Homeland continued the imperfect theme, albeit without any obviously Scandy references apart from hair colour. Maybe Birgitte Nyborg’s character in Borgen will provide something altogether less stressful, but it seems unlikely.

Satire had a good year with the hilarious Twenty Twelve and, sadly, the last ever series of The Thick of It. Both managed to neatly mirror real life in an almost spooky way, especially with the use of ‘word of the year’, Omnishambles. (More on that soon).

Nearly forgot – a fantastic return to form for Aaron Sorkin with The Newsroom.

Weirdest mash-up of the year?
Arch borrower Shephard Fairey creates a mash-up with 70s arch borrower/situationist Jamie Reid. Then charges thousands. We visited his London show this year and couldn’t decide if he was a genius or just a genius rip-off artist.

Retrospective event of the year…
…had to be the D&AD 50th anniversary dinner. Yes, it looked backwards not forwards, yes the ‘results’ of most awarded this, that and the other were fatally skewed to a time when people actually won more than once, but despite all that it was a great evening and the collection of great names in one room was quite something. Cynicism was parked outside, at least for the evening.

Worst jury decision of the year…
…had to be whichever D&AD jury decided that creating and installing a massive pavement of comedians’ quotes in a Northern seaside town wasn’t even worthy of inclusion into the D&AD annual, let alone be worthy of an award.


Best branding projects of the year
Interbrand Sydney continued their hot streak with a lovely project for Quagoma, and we also loved this piece for Alzheimer Nederland by Studio Dumbar.

Closer to home we don’t think enough attention was paid to this nice piece by Bibliotheque for Ollo.

Secretly also really liked the Stedelijk’s new mark as well. Not sure why, but we do.

Rebrand trend of the year…
…seemed to be to smooth out the edges of established brands like ebay and Microsoft. Which, of course, made sense, but doesn’t really make for an interesting end-of-year round-up.

Oddest internet phenomenon of the year…
…had to be the Kony story. Somehow, a video for Invisible Children, a nonprofit dedicated to saving African children from Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, gathered 70 million views in a week, then it’s creator had a moment of temporary insanity and was caught naked waving his tackle at passing cars.

In the meantime, only 80% of the millions raised seemed to be actively dedicated to finding the now world famous Kony, still hiding in the jungle and who hasn’t actually visited Uganda for years.

What’s most telling is the way that Invisible Children managed to leverage the world’s children to share the original film through social media and gain the ‘world’s most viral video’ status. NGOs and ad agencies across the world have watched, taken note and are presumably planning accordingly.

Great to finally hear speaking live
Perhaps as a reaction to the story above – talking about a problem but not doing much – Jacqueline Novogratz at TEDx Euston in November was a breath of fresh air. Ok, so she’s had a bit of practice (having done a few TEDs already) but the way the leader of Acumen Fund explained her organisation’s work to a rapt audience with use of charm, narrative and basic human interest was quite something.

Steal of the year
Given that it involved the wholesale lifting of one of our images for St Davids for the new Cancer Research identity in the UK, you’d think we’d nominate this. But we’re not going to.

Book of the year
The 100 ideas that changed… series from Laurence King was a genuinely useful and educational set. We enjoyed Herb Lubalin: American Graphic Designer by Adrian Shaughnessy and The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design too. We missed the Graphic Design: Now in Production show at the Walker but enjoyed the scrapbook style of the book of the show.

There’s a great round-up of 2012 design books here on Designers and Books, another consistently interesting site.

Forgotten in all the Olympic hype
The, er, not so insignificant discovery that there really is an energy field all around us that gives mass to the fundamental particles that make up our world, sometimes known as the ‘God’ particle. Not a big deal really. Nor was landing a Rover on Mars. Nope.

Also lost in 2012
The Waterstones apostrophe, now featuring its own Twitter account.

Slightly slipping crown award…
…goes to, er, Apple (sorry) after a series of articles bashing its penchant for virtual surfaces more commonly known as skeuomorphism, you know – ‘calendars with faux leather-stitching, bookshelves with wood veneers, fake glass and paper and brushed chrome’. And then there was the Apple/Google maps issue that really did lead to suggestions that a map-app could be life-threatening.

Lucky 13?
Things to look out for in 2013? Will this finally be the year that the much trailed, much discussed Apple TV makes its debut? If anything like the rumours, it could either be a TV completely controllable from your iPhone/iPad, or involve gestures/movements. So either Sonos for the telly or Wii Watch. We’ll have to see.

Watch out for bits of Chinese software expanding out from China too. Tried WeChat yet? You should, it’s fun. Design-wise? Well, after years of battening-down-the-hatches, recession proof design, perhaps 2013 will be a little bolder in its outlook. We hope so.



Happy New Year and thanks to our readers for all their comments, johnson banks friends and family and congratulations to Nick Asbury for a set of answers worthy of a blog of its own. Signed book on its way.

Comments are on for this post so if there’s anything we’ve missed and you want to add, fire away

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