Rewriting the rule book


By James Kape

Over the past month my friends Hamish and Jesse have been raising funds via Kickstarter to print a full-size re-issue of the 1967 loose-leaf Subway System Standards Manual designed by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda as a hardcover book. 

Now with $802,812 amount of funds raised and 6,536 books waiting to be printed, I caught up with them to hear about the project, their next steps and perhaps some of the juicy bits we’ve all been wondering!  But before I do so (and at the risk of repeating what most of you have probably already read here, here and here) here is quick summary. 

Back in 2012 they discovered a rare copy of the manual in the basement of the New York Pentagram office when looking for some tarp to protect the football table on their roof. Following this, they made a website which documented every page within the manual. But seeing it on screen didn’t do it justice so they embarked upon reprinting the manual in its entirety. 

Hey Guys, what a whirlwind! Have their been any bets around where the final fundraising figure would fall?


A lot of people think it will hit 800k, but my (second or third) goal was to hit 750k, which we did last week—I’ll take that any day.


Me too! I remember debating what the original goal should be, and we thought 100k (what we need for the minimum print run) was completely crazy. But to get over 6500 backers is way over what I would have bet.

So you must have been checking the Kickstarter every day? 


To be honest, it was so overwhelming in the beginning that it gave me anxiety to keep checking. My mother has been texting me with the milestones before I even get to see them, along with other friends and family members.


On launch day I was in a cab late for a meeting and I was trying to email the client but the Kickstarter app “new backer” notification was constantly popping up literally every couple of seconds. After that I had to turn it off…like Jesse it was making my feel a little ill!

When you discovered the manual you were working on a NYC wayfinding project. Did any of the rules which you found in the manual inspire your work on this project or any other MTA projects moving forward?


I only worked on the icons for that project, so I was more inspired by the AIGA symbols that were designed for the DOT in 1974 (which Massimo Vignelli was part of the design committee, and coincidentally published four years after the standards manual).


I actually found it really useful to confirm some of the original rules of the system. The whole WalkNYC wayfinding system is designed to reflect the look of the subway signs and blend into the existing transport systems of the city.

On the maps we had chosen to show subway stations with a “subway tab” that looked like a miniature subway sign denoting the station and lines available to the rider. I used the rules set out in the manual to get them just right. We also incorporated the rule above the type—which was originally supposed to be a structural element. So the manual was extremely helpful and influential to the WalkNYC system. It’s nice that is will live on in something other than the subway.

I actually first noticed this manual when featured in UNIT Editions, a book which specifically looks at guidelines from the past. I know Spin asked you to include the manual in this book. Did this idea also inspire you to do more in-depth version of your own?


We were really excited when UNIT asked us to include the manual in their book. I can’t remember when we first floated the idea creating a book for the standards manual that we had, but it really came to fruition after a publisher showed interest, and then dropped off. The UNIT book was probably in production around this time, but maybe once our copy got returned from their staff we put the gears in motion. In the end, getting rejected from the other publisher definitely pushed it through.


I think we talked about making a book right after we found the manual, but at the time it seemed impossible. But a year later we were working with MTA to bring the WalkNYC maps to the into the subway stations, so that relationship gave us an “in” to ask for permission. Seeing UNIT Editions awesome book was what made us really want to do it.

Well that just about wraps things up! What’s your next side project?


It’s sitting on our shelf, coil-bound. Stay tuned!


Mine involves our liquor shelf and a lie-down.


Winning a Lion - what it means to us

By Lisa Smith, Mads J. Poulsen, James Kape

We took home a Silver Lion from Cannes this year for our USA TODAY work, and we’ve never been more thrilled. Over the past few weeks since Cannes’ announcement, we’ve reflected on what this means to us:


Lisa Smith, Design Director

It’s truly amazing to have the recognition from our global peers in the industry. It’s a project that Wolff Olins and USA TODAY poured everything into and this award is the icing on the cake.


Mads J. Poulsen, Senior Designer

Winning a Cannes Lions is really special. The competition is fierce so winning work really has to stand out in a massive sea of global excellence. It’s highly conceptual and demands greatness in theory as well as execution. We focus a lot on the thinking and strategy behind our work as well as design, so it’s good to be part of an award show that appreciates conceptual work and clear ideas, both in advertising and design.


James Kape, Designer

It’s amazing to see a newspaper design win an award in such a digitally focused world. Long live print! 

Here’s to many more…

Goodbye Reader


By James Kape

Yesterday morning, I was met with a rather depressing message during my reading routine. “On July 1st, 2013, we will retire Google Reader.” Behind the decision, apparently, is Google Reader’s steady decline in users and Google’s bigger aspiration to focus on perfecting fewer products as a company. 

The news caused momentary panic, but it soon changed to excitement — as I started looking for alternatives, I realized there are actually a number of new and perhaps more desirable ways for me to interact with digital content. (I’m not saying that I wont miss the stripped back minimalist design of Google Reader…I’m just pleasantly surprised by its soon-to-be replacements.)

Whilst I’m ready to embrace the alternatives, others aren’t responding so well, already there’s a movement against the decision to kill this product. Within one day, there’s a petition to keep Reader running signed by over 100,000 people. Why are we all so afraid of change? I find it even more interesting to see a separate motion was even put to the White House asking Barack Obama to ask the company to rethink its decision to shut down this popular product. 

I can imagine from Google’s perspective, there’s no need to give more attention to updates and design when there are so many alternatives, which specialize only in that field. The last update to Google Reader came in 2011, testament to their decreasing focus on RSS. Despite the variety of online debates that continue to form, Google’s grounds are good: so many popular competitors in RSS are doing it better. Pulse, for example, a reader endorsed by the late Steve Jobs, boasts a user database of more than 20 million (adding more than a million every month).

So what’s my soon-to-be replacement? I think my favorite so far, is feedly —within minutes of using it for the first time this morning, I can already see the benefits over Google Reader. A little cog on the top right allows me to view content in a variety of ways, the layout and typography brings the experience back to the user. You feel like you’re on an actual blog again and as such the content is much easier to digest.

James Kape is a designer at Wolff Olins New York. 

Design education is necessary…or not


This is the first Design Post, a new Wolff Olins blog series by designer James Kape

Do you need a formal education to become a practicing designer? Ten years ago, a strong majority might have disputed the very question! However, today impressive advancements in technology have empowered a growing online community which believe it’s very possible to learn on your own. They feel that design education is fundamentally broken, that you can’t teach to the number of disciplines within graphic design. So why pay thousands of dollars to receive a degree, which will consequently place you in debt without guaranteed job placement?

Last Wednesday,at an event sponsored by AIGA/NY and organized by Designer’s Debate Club, Alice Twemlow, Matteo Bologna, Abbott Miller argued for the motion Formal design education is necessary for practicing designers. Whilst Able Parris, Peter Vidani, Kate Proulx argued against the motion. On each panel it was interesting to see a mix of designers with and without formal education. However I felt the discussions which followed were heavily skewed against one design vocation rather than the broader profession. This was probably due to a panel of print and brand designers verse a panel of web designers. Whilst each did their best to stay on topic, I think the motion they were really discussing was “Formal design education is necessary for practicing web designers.”


Had that been the actual debate question, then some very intriguing points were made against the need for formal education. Perhaps some of the most unchallenged, “digital media in particular is too young for there to be any experts” and “It’s not a matter of being educated or not; there are other ways to learn those things”. Whilst this may be true, how do you identify exactly what those things are in order to become proficient? 

With a formal design education behind me, I felt it very hard to side with the idea that school isn’t necessary. Perhaps best captured by a member of the audience for the motion during the closing statements. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” and that’s just it, you can complete numerous tutorials online to learn how to use the tools. 
But learning how to think, use a grid, and the right typeface at the right time isn’t something you just pick up. It takes time, trial and error.

If all web designers had a formal design education perhaps the web would be a more functional and considered place. I think design education is an important step in becoming a designer. The question now is does education need to adapt more quickly to design? And how can it be more relevant within its disciplines to help those starting out to be more successful and specialized in the long run.  


James Kape is a designer at Wolff Olins.  

Image via by Mimi Rojanasakul

What makes a better logo?

By James Kape

These days everyone seems to have an opinion about graphic design. Some classify good graphic design as something they can’t create themselves, design that’s aesthetically complex or looks like it was really hard to make. Whilst others think literal visualizations are the most successful—it’s sometimes easier to relate to a mark (or logo) when it’s plainly representative of the product or service the brand provides. So what’s the answer? Does a logo need to be complicated or literal to be accepted by the public eye? And how much should public opinion affect a designer’s final output?

Graphic Design — Now in Production” is an exhibition currently on show at Governors Island in New York City. An exploration of graphic design over the last fifteen years, the works within the exhibition cover the rise of user-generated content, alternative methods of printing and distribution, the wide dissemination of creative software, and the new opportunities that have emerged as a result.

One of the most interesting parts of the showcase can be found just outside the primary exhibition space. Here, members of the public are invited and encouraged to share their opinions on recently updated corporate identities like the New York Public Library, Nickelodeon and Wolff Olins’ very own fresh take on AOL. Viewers are presented with two logos—one from before and the other from after the company was rebranded. Then, they’re asked to vote on their favorite version.

As a designer myself, and an observer at the exhibit, it was really interesting to see what criteria led to the more popular mark! For example, one spectator spent considerable time deliberating over the new Comedy Central logo, in the end his preference lay with the original rendition. “I like those buildings, the details, it looks tricky to draw… I could have made the new logo with my eyes shut.” It seemed most judged on execution, if it was something they felt they could have done themselves the other mark wins.

At a recent AIGA event about the exhibition, Michael Bierut of Pentagram joked to the audience “I was curious to see how often people voted wrong.” Whilst this may be the case, there’s definitely something bigger at work. The success of this exhibition demonstrates the importance of a mark’s ability to engage with the public at large, and not just the design cognoscenti. 

Graphic Design — Now In Production is currently on show until September 3, building 110, Governors Island.

James Kape is a designer at Wolff Olins.  

An Ideal Project

By James Kape

What would be your ideal project? Is it to write a book, design a newspaper, or direct a film? Is it something that you could begin independently or would you need it to be handed to you as a brief?

The other week, the three principles of Project Projects — Prem Krishnamurthy, Adam Michaels and Rob Giampietro — spoke at Parsons School of Design for the AIGA covering this subject.

Adam was first to speak, touching specifically on the group’s love of paperback books from the past - mainly due to their pricing and portability. He said that finding the ultimate brief doesn’t necessarily come through a commission, but more often, it comes through a self-initiated proposal. 

This led him to discuss Project Projects’ creation of a book called Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall. The book tells the story of the development of Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall, through archival documentation, contemporary interviews, photography and new analytical writing. It was a project that began with Adam’s self-initiated proposal to Princeton Architectural Press. The idea led to Project Project not only designing the book but also curating, researching and writing the content.

Project Projects had to undertake comprehensive research, develop and write the content as well design the book without any financial remuneration, then finally find a way to pay for the publishing costs.

The finished book became the first of several titles they would design for Princeton Architectural Press’s Inventory Book series, a platform for research on transformations in urban spaces and culture.

Project Projects stands out as an inspiring example for designers to get out and turn their ideal project aspirations into reality. It was an insightful presentation from one of New York’s leading design studios.

Street Value: Shopping, Planning, and Politics at Fulton Mall can be purchased from Amazon here and for more on the project and Project Projects, go here.


James Kape is a designer at Wolff Olins New York.

 Photo by the author. Book image via Project Projects. 

Share: NewsCred Makes Friends, Not Enemies


By Ben Crane

Last week, NewsCred CEO Shafqat Islam and former Wolff Olins account manager Alicianne Rand—now NewsCred’s Marketing Director—came to share with us how they are disrupting the journalism and publishing industry while developing their brand identity.

NewsCred is a technology company that licenses and curates articles, photos and videos from over 750 high quality news sources, from The Guardian to The Economist.

The process of capturing the world’s best journalism is a complicated one, but Shafqat and Alicianne took the time to explain their method. They capture, license, customize, package, and deliver the world’s best journalism all in one place. Sounds simple right?

But NewsCred is not a news aggregator. Instead, it serves journalists- by getting them paid for their work, publishers- by offering customized content, and brands- by making it easy for them to host relevant, quality content with the editorial tools they’ve built. Brands they have worked with include Pepsi, Forbes, and Orange.

The technological abilities of NewsCred’s platform are impressive, but what I found most game-changing about them is how they work with publishers of great content, rather than against them. Their model is one of partnership and facilitation, a trend we’ve seen many startups embrace in the burgeoning sharing economy, from AirBnB to Getaround.

This spirit of looking first to cooperate, rather than compete, is not unique to startups either—industry behemoths are experimenting with this strategy too. Just the other day, Microsoft announced their newest offering, an app for IOS, Android and Windows 8 devices called SmartGlass, which lets you connect competitor’s devices to the Xbox 360 platform. In this case, it’s about providing a better entertainment experience by leveraging the products and services of those traditionally thought of as competitors, rather than Microsoft trying to provide every piece responsible for that experience.

As a brand consultancy, part of our job is reimagining how companies can operate in previously dismissed market spaces. This often requires new partnerships with existing companies, and a focus on what the brand does have, rather than what it lacks. So long as people are interested in learning, they’ll be interested in access to quality information. I’m excited to see which partnerships NewsCred initiates in the coming months.

Learn more about NewsCred  and Xbox SmartGlass.

Ben Crane is an intern on the Wolff Olins Strategy team.

Illustration by James Kape

Summer C-shifts: How the C-Suite Should Rethink Itself

Summer’s arrived early, so for some summer madness, here’s how the C-suite should rethink itself, for game-changing growth:

Chief Usefulness Officer (CUO)

Used to be CMO. Now, it’s not advertising and sales promotions but: what do our customers want to do? How can we be more useful to them?

Chief Experimentation Officer (CXO)

Used to be Chief Technology Officer. No longer tech upgrades and support, but: using new tech, how can we try out new things faster?

Chief Boundary Breaker (CBB)

Used to be Chief HR Officer. Forget performance frameworks or recruitment criteria. Instead: how can we find talent pools inside and outside the organisation? How can we get rid of silos and remove the barriers to collaboration?

Chief Value-Creator (CVC)

Used to be CFO. No longer about the numbers and the risks. Now: what if our main revenue stream died out? What alternatives do we have? What are the new ways we could make money, for ourselves and our customers?

Chief Purpose Officer (CPO)

Used to be COO. No longer efficiency but effectiveness. These days: how can we raise our people’s game by giving them a stronger sense of why we’re doing it?

Robert Jones is visiting professor at University of East Anglia and a senior strategist at Wolff Olins.

Illustration by James Kape.

Wolff Olins Entrepreneur – 3, 2, 1, GO!

Hello world!

First, a little weather forecast. It ‘s going to be + 26 degrees Celsius in London today, coupled with blue skies. Which can only mean 1 thing – summer, summer, summer! Great times for, quite literally, sleeves rolled up stuff to the accompaniment of sandals, convertibles and ice-cold beer drinks.

And because summer is finally here, it seemed logical to remind ourselves of those New Year’s resolutions that kicked off 2012 (sorry, fellow gym goers!) Above and beyond being healthy, happy and purposeful – here at WO London, we said we are going to have an epic year. Not good, not great, but epic.  ‘Bring on the challenge’, we said. And so far it’s been a very busy 5 months with some high-speed galloping.

Riding into the summer, we are happy to welcome a new initiative - Wolff Olins Entrepreneur - into this epic year. A skill share between Wolff Olins London and aspiring product-focused start-ups, this is an effort we’re proud to learn from and help others learn from. As part of this program, Wolff Olins will share its strategic and creative brand insight with start-ups to co-create solutions to tangible business challenges. And, whilst on that journey, deep dive into the environment of a young business and expand our knowledge of product, go-to-market strategies and entrepreneurship in general. 

Brand + Product + Entrepreneurship = Wonderland.  And, all the talk aside - we are excited to kick this off with our launch partner start-up – TechHub in London (check them out!). Driven by a purpose to create a unique ecosystem of tech start-ups, TechHub has become a successful coworking space and platform for tech entrepreneurs seeking to change the world. We are learning loads – and are happy to share the highlights with all of you, folks. Stay tuned for more!

And Follow WO Entrepreneur here:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Tatiana Kachkovsky is a Strategist at Wolff Olins.

Illustration by James Kape.

How design thinking finds new answers

By Campbell Butler

The other day I sat in a brainstorm with a bunch of fellow graphic designers, discussing the future direction of an international business. Someone in the team made a flippant joke about the moment: Most of us had gone to art school, not business school. 

As designers we sometimes worry about engaging in the “business side” of things. But today’s businesses are desperate to find experimental and creative solutions and designers are just the problem-solvers they need. We’ve been trained to take a brief, assess the problem, instinctively create different directions, analyse the positives and negatives, reject one, create another, see what works, see what doesn’t.

We can rapidly create visual concepts that test how products, communications, experiences and interfaces can work together. And we can test multiple directions. It allows businesses to take risks they couldn’t imagine, because they can see tangible possibilities. That, is business prototyping.

There’s an opportunity now as designers to get beneath the veneer of subjective aesthetics and establish design, and design thinking, at the heart of tomorrow’s businesses – an opportunity we should grab with both hands.

So, am I a graphic designer anymore?

Campbell Butler is a Senior Designer at Wolff Olins.

Illustration by James Kape.