Design legend or design history?

If you were impressed by Evan Davis’s flight in a Spitfire on Today this morning, it’s worth disentangling some of the myths about the aircraft by reading Kenneth Agnew’s excellent article about the aircraft in Journal of Design History.

In this little classic of design research, Agnew discusses the problem of deducing design processes from surviving objects, especially when the original documentation is incomplete, there are few (or no) un-restored examples, and there are many popular misconceptions about the quality of the design or the performance of the object.

The photograph, from the Aircraft Restoration Company website, shows the elliptical wing design discussed by Agnew.

Kenneth Agnew, ‘The Spitfire: Legend or History? An Argument for a New Research Culture in Design’. Journal of Design History, vol. 6, no. 2 (1993), pp. 121–30

The book that Fell to earth

A Dodo in Oxford: A Panel Discussion

Wednesday 13 October at 7pm
Blackwell Bookshop, 48–51 Broad Street, Oxford
Tickets: £2

In 2008, a diary was discovered amongst some books donated to a charity bookshop in Oxford. It was a most remarkable book, supposedly written over three hundred years ago by a student, describing his life and unusual pet, a dodo. The author of the diary was student of science and recorded his pet’s every move, as well as the reactions of his friends and acquaintances. He had some idea of the bird's rarity, but not that his pet might have been the last dodo to have walked upon the earth.

Doubts have been cast over the authenticity of the diary, so every page has been photographed and reprinted here, meaning that this work does at least three things – it provides a portrait of the famous bird, it reveals glimpses of seventeenth-century Oxford, and it offers the history of a book – how it was printed, made, unmade, forgotten, and ultimately revived.

Four panellists will discuss the details and vicissitudes of this piece of history – Professor Paul Luna, Head of Typography and Graphic Communication at Reading University; Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books and Printed Emphemera at the Bodleian Library; David Shirt, scientist and lexicographer, with a special interest in ornithology; and Michael Johnson, editor of A Dodo at Oxford. John Mitchinson, one of the men behind QI, will chair this discussion.

Tickets cost £2 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell Bookshop, Oxford. 01865 333623.

A seventeenth-century ASBO

The impressive Fell types owned by the University of Oxford were not always used for imposing, learned tomes. They were also used for jobbing printing – they were the University’s Arial and Comic Sans as well as its Garamond Premier Pro and Perpetua Titling. Here’s an example of a piece of jobbing printing from 1672 (Madan 2932), set in leaded Double Pica (about 22 pt):

‘Whereas Tuesday next is to be observed as a day of Fasting for the martyrdom of Charles I. No shops are to be open, no children or servants are to loiter about, no tippling or drinking to be allowed in taverns, &c.

‘Jan. 27. 1671

‘Oxford, at the Sheldonian Theatre’

It was ‘stuck up on all common places of the city’. See Anthony Wood's Life, ed. Clark, ii.
215 n.

Why graphic design is futile

This cheap’n’cheerful identity for UK television station Five, introduced last year, is due to be replaced now that porn publisher Richard Desmond has gobbled up the station. While I’m not sure it will be missed, it does make you think that graphic designers would be better off making something that had a reasonable chance of a working life, like a cheese soufflĂ© for example.