All posts by Andy Cowles

You lookin’ at me?

ed-walker-tube-girlTaking pictures of strangers in public places without their permission requires some nerve. Photographer Ed Walker clearly has plenty of that, as he’s taken loads of pictures in this very way.

There’s an extraordinary quality to his images. Because the sitter is given no notice that they are to be photographed, the look Ed gets is unlike any with-permission portrait.  But nor are they reportage, as the eye contact creates a sensation far stronger than just a documentary image.

ed-walker-tube-manWithout model releases of course, the commercial potential for this approach is zero. This is Art, with a capital A.

Which is why I was so pleased to be able to use some of Eds’ pictures to illustrate a presentation I’m giving next week; What’s Next For Banks. The images have the same feeling, but as all the subjects are looking at their phones, none arerecognisable.

Hat.LRThe initial flyer for What’s Next For Banks was posted on this blog earlier this week, here’s another, showing the range of Ed’s approach. He’s a pretty good landscape photographer too, as these fine images demonstrate.

ed-walker-diving-boarded-walker-cloudsed-walker-roadCheck out his flickr, and also his site, where he blogs with great passion about what he’s doing and why. Well worth a look.

Rock n’ roll meets corporate finance

What's-next-for-banksAlong with my colleagues Andy Pemberton and James Lumley, I’m presenting at this top-notch event next week. Our agency Furthr has teamed up with White Light Media to challenge your expectations with a provocative line-up of speakers with backgrounds in business investment, disruptive thinking, brand development… and rock music.

It’s an invitation-only, free event for senior comms and marketing professionals in the banking sector from 4-6pm on Thursday 24 September at the 71A gallery and bar in Shoreditch, London. If you want to come, drop me a line!

Here’s the official details:

Andy Cowles (former Art Director of Rolling Stone) and Andrew Pemberton (former Editor of Q) have turned their attention from rock music to financial services. Joined by James Lumley, formerly of Bloomberg News and Aviva Plc, they have compiled over 100 case studies of innovation in banking. Hear them reveal key learnings from some of these case studies to pinpoint big challenges and exciting solutions.

Julie Meyer is Chairman and Chief Executive of Ariadne Capital and Founder of EntrepreneurCountry Global. Specialising in uniting big corporations with the disruptive thinking of digital start-ups, Julie has thought-provoking ideas as to how UK banks need to think differently.

Vince Medeiros is publisher at TCOLondon, urban trendsetters in print, video and online. Vince will showcase their work for Google, demonstrating smart approaches to communications that offer meaningful engagement and value exchange for small and big brands alike.

Fraser Allen, CEO of White Light Media and Publisher of Poppy, has worked with financial brands such as Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and Standard Life. Hear him explore the eight key elements of powerful brand storytelling.

After the talks, join us for a beer or two and the chance to chat to us all!

The Big Issue wins PPA Cover of The Year 2015 with a stunning demonstration of editorial expertise

Big-Issue-cover-of-the-year-2015The Big Issue has won the prestigious 2015 PPA Cover of The Year award with this powerful image of former Sergeant Rick Clement. The cover was designed by art director Scott Maclean and the photo taken by rock star turned photographer, Bryan Adams.

Judged by public vote it secured over 25% of all 30,000 votes cast, beating out Elle, Time Out, Shortlist and GQ, with the pre-race favourite Radio Times‘ Doctor Who cover not even getting in the frame.

ppa-big-issue-cover-of-the-yearThe award was accepted by Big Issue Editor Paul McNamee, who in a moment of considerable drama, then invited Rick Clement onto the stage, with his wheelchair pushed by none other than Bryan Adams himself. Here they all are, flanked by PPA CEO Barry McIlheney and host for the night Lauren Laverne.

It’s not often you get a thousand industry hacks to pay any kind of attention, but on this occasion there was nothing we could do but deliver a heartfelt standing ovation. In the silence that followed, Rick took the mike, and after explaining what a pleasure it was to be with a bunch of people who were as legless as he was(!), he paid tribute to the mates he left behind in Afghanistan, declaring that this trophy was ‘for them’.

I’ve been to plenty of industry awards, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Apart from being genuinely moving, it was a clear reminder of the Huffington Post’s recent declaration that a magazine cover remains ‘one of the modern age’s most widely consumed pieces of public art’.

The Big Issue has a long suit when it comes to front cover innovation. From crowdsourcing their Christmas cover, to leveraging the heart of their brand, using a hashtag strategy to celebrate their vendor, all the way through to understanding what makes you pick up a cover in the first place. The Big Issue may have a unique distribution method, but their editorial skill is universal. It talks to the reader one-to-one, it’s personal and it’s emotional.

Returning to their cover of Rick Clement, I’m reminded of the editorial photographer Giles Duley, who also lost his legs to an IED in Afghanistan. Both these men are pushing on with new ventures, determined not to let their injuries make them victims. Rick leads an impressive looking charity for injured soldiers at A Soldiers Journey, Giles is now setting off on Legacy of War, a massive project documenting the long term cost of conflict around the world. It’s a going to be a really important body of work, you can support it here at Kickstarter.

‘The interface is the product’. Apple prove Steve Jobs’ mantra yet again with the introduction of their new system font.

san-francisco-fontHere’s a video from WWDC 2015 where Apple introduce their brand new font, San Francisco. It’s similar to Helvetica, but with several key differences that create a warmer, more gender neutral feel. In my opinion it draws heavily on the success of Proxima Nova discussed on this blog at length a few weeks ago.

Font freaks will find the video is a bit 101 in places, but elsewhere it explains the benefits of this new font with terrific clarity. On the WWDC 2015 video landing page Apple claim that ‘Fonts lay at the intersection of design and engineering’. Given how much care and attention they have invested in this new San Francisco font, they’re still holding true to Steve Job’s mantra: ‘The Interface is the product’

There’s more reporting on the San Francisco font at 9to5mac, and fastcodesign.

Thanks to film director Billy Boyd Cape for the link, which as you might expect from Apple, only works in Safari.

The single reason why Proxima Nova is the world’s best font

proxim-helveticaThere’s a good story by on Medium today about Proxima Nova, the font that by many measures has replaced Helvetica as the world’s most popular typeface. Proxima was first drawn by Mark Simonson in 1981, it took a while to gain traction but after the release of Gotham in 2002 it really took off.

Fred Woodward commissioned Hoeffler to create Gotham when he took over as Creative Director at GQ, and very nice it looked too. But I had just taken over Fred’s job as art director of Rolling Stone, and was looking for a new geometric sans myself, so after consulting with my art department of Kory Kennedy, Devin Pedzwater and Matthew Ball, I chose Proxima, because it was just…better.

proxima-grabSince then I have used it in dozens of different roles. I put it in the million selling weekly What’s On TV, where the vast amount of TV listings require an exceptionally functional and legible font. I chose it for Chat, to bring a little glamour to the real life women’s weekly market, and I’ve used it endlessly on development projects where it’s essential to have a font that looks cool and modern, but that does not have a prescriptive point of view.

By this, I mean a font that doesn’t look too male, too female, too posh, too serious, too anything, but still holds deep emotional promise.

This is the genius of Proxima. The Medium article rightly makes the case for the lower case ‘a’ being the signature character, the single letter that defines the feeling of the whole font. And compared to Gotham, the Proxima ‘a’ wins hands down.

But in the first place, sans fonts are defined by the lowercase ‘i’. This letter can only be drawn in two ways, with either a rounded dot or a square edged dot.

Johnson’s London Underground font is an exception, with a diamond dot, and there are other fonts that have got squares with rounded corners, but you get the general idea here.

Helvetica has a square dot. This makes it strong, practical, manly even.

The alternative to Helvetica used to be Futura, the Bauhaus masterpiece so recently dumped by Ikea in favour of Verdana.

Futura has a round dot on the ‘i’. This makes it friendly, modern and possibly more female. But Futura predates Helvetica. It’s not built for the modern age, it’s got a small x-height and it doesn’t work on screen. What’s more, its ‘i’ dot looks underpowered compared to Proxima‘s

Which is why Proxima is so brilliant. It combines the strength of Helvetica with the feeling of Futura. And it’s the lowercase ‘i’ that proves it.

Mark-simonsenHere’s Mark Simonson at his desk, from a great story by Tamye Riggs on the adobe site about how Mark works, with lots of excellent examples and sketches.

original-proxima-grabAnd here is the original 1981 sketch for Proxima, taken from Cameron Moll’s Medium post.

Postscript: Mark Simonson and I exchanged a few messages on twitter after this post was published. In these he generously noted that Rolling Stone’s 2002 adoption of Proxima gave him the motivation to develop Proxima Nova with all the extra weights. 

Five must-see, must read stories


Here’s a brilliant story on Periscope, TV rights and the implications for copyright generally.

David Hepworth on how ‘creativity’ is not what we want, it’s ingenuity. Excellent, as always.

Outstanding advice from my colleague Andy Pemberton at Furthr on how to build the perfect infographic.

Ink’s very smart airline magazine Rhapsody gets the thumbs up in The New York Times. Editor Jordan Heller will be pleased.

I’m presenting at The Media Briefing’s Monetising Media conference 21st-23rd October. It’s already a stellar line-up, grab the early bird rate while you can!

Cartoon above from The New Yorker, obvs.