manhattan tours

type ribbon cycle tops

edendork ps

lap the lough

liberty blue


portavo II

ballysaggart group

business as usual

In 2000 the idea came while sitting outside my tent in Maçon, north of Lyon. i was reading David Toop's Ocean of Sound. It was late evening and very warn, suddenly, crickets began that scratching, clicking sound. The noise alone seemed to raise the temperature by about 5℃.

when i was a kid, i thought ice cream smelt of diesel fumes. i worked it out years later…

I associated the sound with sun-baked spaghetti westerns and 50's melodramas set in the deep south.
When i was a kid, i thought ice cream smelt of diesel fumes. I worked it out years later, you queue for your ice cream by the exhaust pipe of the van. Smells and sounds can be as evocative as images.


Later in 2001 I travelled to the USA for the first time, Manhattan. I knew what new york looked like but had no idea what it sounded like. Before the trip i went into the library and borrowed a BBC sound-fx of NY. The sounds were 3 mins, like snap shots. It might be interesting to make sonic snap shots of the trip and show it to people as you would a photo album. In early 2002 I contacted Seán Kelly, Director at CQAF, to see if he'd be interested in using it in the festival. It was only their second festival and they were still very small and probably willing to take a risk. I sent him the proposal. He was keen or perhaps desperate, the budget was tiny - £200.


the 'Cathedral Quarter' is a small inner city area of Belfast, once associated with the print trade. It's largely pedestrianised, cobbled and with some atmospheric old streets. It's quite popular now but back then it was still considered 'out of town'. Exchange place, off Donegal St. seemed ideal. There aren't too many people working there, it had an art gallery/workspace in a second floor warehouse, Catalyst Arts. Stephen and John at Catalyst kindly loaned me their toilet as a control base. I would be able to set the tape recorders on the toilet bowl and cistern and feed all necessary wiring out the window.

I had taken notes while in NY. I was surprised how laid back it was. How sedate central park was. How noisy diners were. Car horns had been banned so the streets weren't as loud as i expected. It was a more subtle soundtrack than I'd imagined. I hadn't the ability to record whilst in NY, a dat would have been great, my budget was tiny - £200. Fortunately i had the library, and more importantly the napster and a vs880ex. The Napster proved invaluable for NY sounds. People had begun recording ambient sounds and making them available. It was recorded on 8 tracks. (The Napster shut days after i'd finished.)


I spent many evenings in a scrap yard in Hannastown, West Belfast, ripping old car speakers from Vauxhall cars. Vauxhall use Blaupunkt speakers - quality. I ended up with about 30. I borrowed 4 amplifiers to drive each set of speakers. I used cheap wire to make the connections. Cheap wire was probably the weakest link - don't skimp on the conductors. 4 tape recorders were used (before iPods). 4 tapes were colour coded. The speakers were colour coded. Sounds (events) were allocated a colour. Colour indicated which speaker it came from. All events were placed on a timeline, eg at 6 min you pass subway turn style on yellow , 30 secs later the train arrives on red . The mix gave a feeling of space and narrative. Speakers did not output at all times but alternated throughout the piece, giving a 3d, surround effect. The piece took place in a 30 metre artificial tunnel construced of scaffolding.


The map was used as a flyer and large poster to advertise the event. The orange blob shows the imaginary route taken. The event actually took 20 mins. The plane landing at JFK. The taxi ride to manhattan. Walking to grand central station. Going down to the subway. The train pulling up. Riding inside the train and traveling up town. Walking through central park. Stopping at a diner for something to eat. Heading on to a party in Greenwich Village. An argument. the cops arriving to make an arrest. Jetting home again. A whirlwind trip in 20 mins.

The event was advertised as '2 days in Manhattan absolutely free' - who wouldn't want two days in Manhattan… absolutely free!. It took place on the last Fri and Sat of the festival. Most of the 100's who attended were dragged down the entry by the strange noises but lots came with flyer in hand promptly on the hour for their "tour".

I followed this up with several other 'installations' over the years.

I knew a while back that I'd be doing some cycle tops in 2012. Having never done anything like this before I thought it would be a good idea to try adapting some existing brands onto cycle tops as a bit of a crash course.

Sponsors' logos really do ruin a nicely designed cycle top.

On design sponge I found a link to Uppercase's blog post about the small tins typewriter ribbons were packaged in. I thought the type and colour really lent themselves to some classic cycle tops from the 60s & 70s. All those stripes and slabs of colour were really reminiscent of the Molteni, Brooklyn and Raphael tops before sublimation printing and when they were still made from wool and stitched on lettering.

So I chose 4 or 5 and went in search of a few more as well.

I ended up with about 4 that I though really lent themselves really well.

What I learned? Simple is most definitely better. Bike design seems to be cyclical. It can drift up it's own backside with curves and twists and funny shaped forks but it always comes back home to 2 triangles and nice thin tubes. Cycles tops seem to follow a similar path. Cippolini's tiger suits were a high point or scraped the barrel, either way we've seen a return to more subtle designs of late. I'm not sure it's retro, I just call it cyclical.
The other thing I learned was any more than 2 sponsors logos really does ruin a nice cycle top.

Image credit: inspiration and some imagery taken from Uppercase's Flickr set.

The one place where technology should be at the cutting edge, in schools, is currently lagging years behind, somewhere around 2006.

…remember who the end users are and some of the strict parameters you might have to operate in - IE5 anyone?

A simple site with kids and parents primarily in mind, striaghtforward brief with a basic budget. There's lot of things to consider, especially when working with teachers, pupils and parents. There were also some of the strict parameters we had to operate in i.e. operate sometime in 2006 - more of that later.

The other thing that had to be emphasised was the lead-in time. Not everyone would use the site initially. I stressed to the head that it should start with her. She must get comfortable using the site and all its features. That way it would mean that the technology would filter down which is much much easier than a lowly substitute IT teacher pushing new methods on a school with established practices.

So to the Rhodia and a few sketches of the front page, a rough idea of templates that would be needed etc. The various features such as rotating banner, kids blogs etc were set up to be rolled out as the teachers and pupils became more comfortable with the site and began integrating it into their daily lessons.

Rough sketch

The site was then mocked up in Freehand MX and presented to the client, comments made, elements changed and rearranged and then off to Fireworks and Expression Engine.

The main idea was to get away from the typical dayglo colours mixed with Comic Sans that all primary schools seemed compelled to follow.

Old school site.

We wanted to present the content in a clear methodical method, with obvious links and navigation that the pupils would find stimulating and easy to navigate. The more content the pupils generate themselves the more 'school like' it will become.

FreehandMX mockup

Having worked in education for a while I'm aware that it's an environment that takes time to adjust to new methods. The advantage here was the hands on, positive approach of the Principal. She drove the project and once completed was comfortable taking on the Admin duties, meaning the trickle down use of the site was guaranteed. She is now able to turn on and off features when she feels it's appropriate.

Final version.

General state of affairs
The fact is, through probably over zealous firewalls and fear of anything improper appearing on a harddrive, the list of content that primary schools aren't allowed to visit is probably greater than those they can visit. All IT content is controlled centrally by the Education Department. All upgrades are handled externally.

So if you're a very proficient teacher with great IT abilities wishing to use social media, in a controlled, classroom environment, to demonstrate or enhance the learning experienced - you can't. Essentially you're forced to live somewhere around 2006. That means, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook haven't arrived yet. Lots of great features that could be taught in a safe, classroom environment are banned.
The Whole Web 2.0 experieince hasn't arrived in schools yet. Microsoft are still the dominant force. I spoke to the Education Department's IT section on the phone, asking why the whole school was stil on IE 5. They talked about "rolling out IE 6.0 in the next 18 months" - seriously! Cloud computing is still very much up in the clouds, the iPhone, iPad and are still on the test bench in Cupertino. Chinese kids are probably getting a richer IT experience than kids in NI.

If there was somewhere were these technologies should be used, it's the classroom. Unfortunately teachers seem to prefer it this way. Granted some just fear the technology but there are others who get it and embrace it but ultimately fear something improper, for totally innocent reasons, ending up on a hard drive and the blame, inadvertently, landing on their doorstep.

Work completed using: XHTML, CSS, Fireworks, Freehand, Expression Engine.

This was a redesign and re-brand for Lap the Lough, a large cycle event in Ireland. The "sportive" market has become pretty crowded in the past 3-4 years. This was to give the event some "stand out" and a base to build on for the next 3-5 years.

I'd been looking at some old record sleeves, not the actual covers…

The idea was to present something different - something that would draw you in, something to set the event apart from similar styled events. We also wanted the site to a look and read a lot snappier, more concise.

For those that take part each year they basically want to know when it's on, where it starts and how much it's going to cost. Others might want to know how to fundraise and a small bit of background. New comers would want to get a full overview of the event. So the front page had to pack in a lot of information without looking too much like a FAQ page. It had to present all the essential elements for the event in a very easily digestible manner, like a box of chocolates.

I'd been looking at some old record sleeves, not the actual covers but the paper sleeves that used to hold the vinyl. The larger labels would use this to advertise other records you might like - similar to Amazon's "you might like this". These would be laid out in a grid with a small thumbnail of the cover and a bit of copy underneath - sounds familiar? All this 'grid layout' stuff has been around for centuries. So an old Les Baxter LP sleeve of Exotica music was more or less the starting point.

33" vinyl sleeve.

The main layout is on a 888px wide grid producing 12 columns. This gives the option of 2,3,4 & 6 cols when needed.

The measures. Page, cols, margins, gutters.

Here's what it looks like with 4 cols of content overlaid on the grid.

The underlying grid of 888px.

I had a bundle of Drew Wilsons Pictos icons for a while waiting for the opportunity to use them. The idea was to introduce these on the home page like a large chocolate box and then use them as short hand for navigation etc throughout the site. We were also able to use them for the "3 simple…" statements along the top of the page, a quick snap shot/set of instructions of what was on each page.

The navigation used the CSS3 opacity setting to save using multiple images for the over/down state. A quick tweak on the padding made it pop up and light up once the page was selected.

The main content is all list driven. One main < div > holds the central content. 4 basic css rules determine how many columns the < ul > content is split into. It all worked fairly simply. Sort of. All built on Expression Engine 2.1.

The Home page.

The Event page.

For almost 20 years Liberty Blue has been supplying their customers with completely exclusive fashion. Risk-taking with a real sense of humour and originality.

I'm playing all the right notes sunshine, but not necessarily in the right order…

I've known the owners for years, and they'd asked me a few times to work with them on their on-line store. My time's tight as I'm full time with 3 kids, I have to pick my projects carefully. I don't always pick the best paid job but I try and go for job with legs, something that will continue to evolve over a longer period of time. Exposure is another factor. You could do a well paid job for an archaeological project happening in a boggy field in Derrytresk, but it's not going to generate much traffic or interest. Like water on a stone I eventually gave in.

To be honest I was more interested in working on their brand rather than designing a web site. Their brand consisted of this:

Original Logo

So we sat down for several nights over pots of strange green Japanese tea talking about who Liberty Blue was. I drew up a small questionnaire and asked for about 100 responses. From the feedback in the shop we were able to come up with a concise brand identity and accompanying branding guidelines.

Branding Document

Simple Style Guide

The original logo was hand drawn at some point and scanned. So all we had was the raster version. I always tend to steer clear of trends. The swirls and scrolls had become 'trendy' and I felt they ran the risk of looking out-dated in about 18 months. It looked a bit overgrown and cluttered. They liked the hand drawn font and thought it should stay. I got the hedge clippers out, give it a trim and drew the vectors for the font in Freehand. Rather than redesign, it can be a good idea to simply realign. As the great Eric Morcombe once said, "I'm playing all the right notes sunshine, but not necessarily in the right order". I liked parts of their logo, it had all the right parts but I felt most of them were 'not necessarily in the right order'. I applied the new brand to stationery and bags etc

Vectors in Freehand MX

Final logo

Business Card

Shopping Bag

My time is limited, my experience in e-commerce even more so. Marc Johns, the illustrator/artist, had done some work for me and I'd visited his shop a few times to see samples. He used Shopify to drive his site. It looked good, the 'Vogue Theme' looked fairly easy to customise. I had a look at the features and it seemed sensible that you give a company a cut of the profits and they keep adding features, do the backups and bug fixes and all I had to do was do the HTML and CSS. I used Shopify's desktop app Vision, to work on the theme, though the 'Liquid' code was a bit of a learning curve. Again the new brand guidelines and a 12 col grid were used for the on-line shop.

Liberty Blue on-line

It all went live in Spring 2010.

The first proper 'cycling guide' to Northern Ireland was published last year. I've always cycled. Even when it was deeply unfashionable. I couldn't drive until I was in my mid 20s. I never really found the need for a car in a city.

I'm usually on the other end complaining about late copy waiting for the copywriter to pull a finger out…

Over the past 10 years I became a bit more active, trying to promote it as a viable means for getting about, organising Bike to Work events, Sportiffs etc. Cycling now seems to be fairly 'cool' again. One of my first forays into the web was belfastandbeyond, dating back almost 10 years! Essentially, it was in response to the complete lack of information provided by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Through various forums I was repeatedly asked about cycle holidays in Ireland, so I stuck this up on the web and kept it updated for about 3 years. The Tourist Board eventually came to their senses and handed over the promotion of cycling & bike related holidays to CAAN. They're dedicated and enthusiastic about what they do. I eventually took the site down as there wasn't really any need for it.

CAAN then asked me if I could provide the copy and some photography for their new cycle guide. I designed their Walking Guide in a previous life but to actually write the copy was something of a departure. I'm usually on the other end complaining about late copy and having to mock up pages in Ipsum until the copywriter gets a finger out. CAAN follow the Tourist Board's Brand . It's fairly loose and not prescriptive at all, which can be problem when trying to find the right 'voice'. However, a meeting with the ever helpful CAAN editor, and a few draft versions got me on the right track very quickly.

I'd written a number of pieces for Cycling Plus so I was comfortable enough writing, but taking on 15,000 words and a 60 page brochure was something different. The brief was to write 40 small pieces of 300 words and 6 long distance routes of 600. Luckily I'd ridden most of the routes, or ridden in the general location but life on the other side was a bit different.

I took a hot desk in offices close by as the space taken up by the maps and brochures began to swamp my small home office. Being able to pin lots of maps and brochures to a wall and leave them over night without children pulling them down was pretty handy. Google earth is a God send for this type of work and was invaluable on researching routes that had never been written about before.

Steering away from the cliché (get it?), is always a problem, it gets more problematic when writing about a very narrow subject, so it was important to focus on each route, give it some identity and highlight why it was worth making the effort. Limiting the 'breathtaking', 'unbelievable', 'stunning' and the long list of generic phrases associated with tourism pieces was a priority. I was conscious that cyclists would be reading it. They're a very diverse group so when a route was a leg busting climb then I tried to convey this up front rather than lead anyone up the garden path.

Similar to graphic design, inevitably some of your best ideas, or what you perceive to be your best, end up on the cutting room floor. Some phrases and well crafted lines that I laboured over into the small hours either disappeared or were chopped off in their prime. Bloody editors!

You can grab a copy of Pedal over at Cycle NI.

An interesteing job I did a few years ago for a small 'boutique' imprint. Books are always interesting by their very nature but this also involved a bit of detective work with a ruler an old Linotype Catalogue.

A ruler and an old type guide identified the drops to headings, margins, para indents, side bars, image runarounds

Peter Carr, the Author, attended a class I took in Quark Xpress/Publishing in BIFHE a while back. He not only writes but publishes, edits and distributes his books and other selected work through his own publishing house, Whiterow Press. Not happy with all that he decided to cut out yet another middle man i.e. the Graphic Designer and typeset & design the books as well. This explained his interest in the course.

portavo front cover

Anyway, long after the course was completed I got a call, could I help out with the new book, Portavo Part II. He was going to have a go styling up the copy but wondered if I'd do the design, layout the masters and style sheets. The only trouble was it had to be identical to Part I, in every way. I hadn't access to the original files but got a hold of the Portavo I and set about with a pencil, ruler and a copy of an old Linotype Catalogue.

portavo chapter 23 start

First thing was to identify the fonts. After working for 6 years entirely in TImes New Roman, the 'body type' was fairly straight forward. The 'chapter starts' weren't too difficult either. They sort of had a foot in both camps, neither overly ornate but not entirely straight. Most fonts have a few 'tells' that make them easily identifiable. The 'b' in 'brooms' was a good give away. Blown up it is quite unusual/distinctive and a quick check established it as Optima. It's one of those fonts that have gone completely out of fashion lately but is quite versatile and looks good both in body and display.

detail of Optima

The title font was a bit more tricky. It's a rather grand, classical display font, all in caps. The tapering 'P' that didn't quite meet the stem was a clue. It took about 15 minutes and a few web searches to pin it down as Trajan Pro. Co-inceidently it seems Optima was also based on the ancient inscription.

detail of Trajan Pro

A ruler and an old type guide identified the point sizes and leading, drops to headings, margins, para indents, side bars, image runarounds etc.

Books are also interesting to put together because you get to utilise parts of the software package that usually lie gathering dust. Quark Xpress has a fantastic 'Book' function. Chapters can be set up, worked on simultaneously by diffferent users, contents & indexes updated automatically.

A note to anyone writing a book using Microsoft Word or any other dedicated word processing package. USE STYLE SHEETS! Even in their most basic form. Set up these very simple styles, 'Titles', 'Headings','Sub-heads' 'Body' & 'Captions". Apply them rigorously. When it comes to flowing the text through Quark or InDesign the style sheets can be pulled through, amended to suit the new style/design for the finished book and applied within minutes. This will save days of work scrolling through pages, highlighting text and applying a style sheet.

A small environmental group based in Dungannon needed a website to raise the profile of their work on the Ballysaggart (Black) Lough. They had no identity whatsoever and a very small budget.

I started off with eggs, heads, beaks, nests but eventually settled on the eye itself.

A few meetings quickly established what the group needed in terms of identity and website. They had quite a substantial amount of research, fairly intensive, academic and not that user friendly. The job was to get the information out of the folders, present it in a way that highlighted the threats to the Lough and hopefully inspire people to get involved.

The research revealed that, quite remarkably, 10% of all Goldeneye Ducks in Ireland, nested on Ballysaggart Lough. This seemed to be the most obvious starting point, in terms of identity. Sketches of eggs, heads, beaks and nests followed before eventually settling on the eye itself. It's straightforward and strong.

Using this simple graphic and Frutiger, produced an uncluttered identity that was easily applied to other media. Keeping it simple left the the site fairly straightforward. The biggest challenge was sub editing and writing the content, accessible enough for schools who wished to visit on field trips yet also technical enough for an acedemic to delve deeper into the threats that this small lake faces.

We placed all the technical stuff on the sidebars leaving the remaining content on the main section. I also tried out the newly released Blueprint framework and saw whether or not it sped up the process.

We set up a Black Lough pool on Flickr and persuaded local photographers to contribute. That left us with a small photo feed of about 300 images, more than enough. I had a go using Microformats in the form of a vcard.

All in all it was fairly strightforward, made easier because the client just let me get on with it. A rarity. The Blueprint Framework certainly had it's advantages. It is very good on typography, all that type locked on the basline is very nice. It slightly over eggs it when handling grids, but some modules of it were very useful.

This started off as a conversation about buying a length of cloth from Speers' drapery in Dungannon. It transpired the shop had closed without anyone really noticing. An outdoor exhibition, indoor exhibition and a book followed.

No picture in the paper, no civic handskake, no send-off. Decades of trading, experience, service, knowledge and history lost.

Shops and businesses, especially in small towns, play a unique role. Together they form linchpins that support an entire town. Remove one or two business from a street and within a few years that street can go to ruins. Speers’ shop closed without any fanfare or ceremony after decades of trading. No picture in the paper, no civic handskake, no send-off. Decades of trading, experience, service, knowledge and history gone without any record. It now lies derelict. We thought it might be interesting to celebrate and document the remaining businesses, especially during what transpired to be the deepest phase of the credit crunch.

The job was more or less split down the middle. Eugene did the logistics, approaching every family run business who had been trading for 20 years, getting them to agree to being photographed going about their business at a certain time on a certain day. A 3 week photo schedule was drawn up.

We spent 3 weeks photographing the businesses in the mornings between 9.30 and 11.30. One snapped while the other did some light 'art direction'. Each business was left with a questionnaire, this was to collect some background and history from each business. I processed the RAW files in the afternoon and typed, set and styled the copy.

Rather than stick all the pictures in some dusty old council building, we asked each business to display a photograph of another business in their front window. In theory turning the town centre into an outdoor exhibition. A 'route map' would guide people around the town showing them where the next picture hung.


To keep costs low we used the same print for both 'town' and indoor exhibition. To give the impression of a mounted picture a light keyline was placed around each image. A small excerpt of the copy placed beneath each image (below). All pictures were printed at 54 cm x 34 cm, stuck onto 3mm mdf and laminated. The board was light enough to stick to the inside of a shop window using small double sided sticky tabs.


28 businesses in total took part. The images hung in the shop windows for 2 weeks then all were collected together, framed and hung in the Bank House Hotel for 2 weeks leading up to Christmas.
Finally, all the images and copy were pulled together into a book. Print-on-demand means very small, limited edition print runs are now economically viable. The book is now available in hardback and softback from