Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I read today, via a link from the man like Ade,(and as reported by Creative Review) that Sheffield based exponents of all things vector The Designer's Republic offically went bump, sometime in mid-January of this year (shows how up-to-date I am).

It sounds like they encountered a 'perfect storm' of mishaps, such as the loss of a couple of accounts and non-payment by another large, as-yet-unnamed company, which combined to render the good ship DR financially non-viable as an ongoing concern.

The web is already seeing an outpouring of dismay from assorted designers across the board, tinted largely with a flush of roseate nostalgia for TDR's heyday of the 90s, which is, I suspect, part of the problem. Sad as it is, I can't say I'm incredibly surprised TDR went under, as though it's maybe heretical to say it, every dog has its day, and theirs was around 10 years ago.

The Designer's republic, to me, always had a fairly strong 'house style'. They were your go-to designers for a certain icon-rich, vector-y cool, that was, to be sure, oft imitated – the most obvious exponents of this type of design that come to mind now, being Japan's Power Graphixx (which is sort of an irony in itself, given how much TDR 'borrowed' Japanese pop iconography, at least in their early days).

It was undeniably, pretty dammned cool. The kind of stuff that launched a thousand design consultancies, and inspired tens of thousands of students to pick up pen and mouse.

Unfortunately, that which is radical today is often the cliche of tomorrow. The last couple of visits I paid to their erstwhile website (admittedly years ago) it was starting to look a little tired and perhaps even slightly irritating in its ADHD flickery-ness. Harsh? I hope not. TDR were the dogs bollocks, for long enough, but their aforementioned trademark style did leave them open to the vagaries of changing trends and fashion. They were very good at what they did, but the world moved on – and for me, The Designer's Republic connoted the 90s stylistic zeitgeist as much as Mo Wax records and combat pants.

For the problem with cool, is that all too often it gets co-opted by large quote-unquote EVIL corporations (eg: the makers of a certain ubiquitous brown, fizzy drink) and broadcasted back to fast moving consumer groups (FMCGs). The problem here being that these people are so fast-moving, that the product (or rather the wrapper itself, in this case) has a shortened shelf life.

Nowadays of course, it's all about artsy Non Format style art direction, all neo-modernist/brutalist typefaces with the kind of florid augmentation last seen on Herb Lubalin's blotter pad in the 70s, in New York, and to be honest, even this is starting to look a little faded. (If I seen another fancy-nancy type treatment with swirly stuff wibbling out of gothic typefaces with all the holes filled in and a ten point stroke on them, so help me god, my brain will probably shut down to save my sanity.) I wonder what's next?

But as Creative review reports, founder Ian Anderson intends to reboot his baby, and take it back-to-basics with the original ethos he set out with in the mid-eighties, as opposed to the more identifiably 'formal' agency it reportedly became. Let's hope that if TDR does return, it'll be with a spirit of reinvention.

For now though, my personal footnote?

TDR: It was fun while it lasted.

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