This is perhaps the closest I will ever get to being a beauty blogger and I am pretty excited about it. I am so excited in fact that I am coming at you with not one, but two design stories this time. I’ve taken a couple of objects from my makeup bag, inspired by the classic “what’s in my bag” Youtube videos, and telling their story: the compact mirror and the lipstick bullet.

COMPACT MIRROR

Silvered glass mirrors, like the ones we use today, have been around for almost two centuries. In 1835, Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, created a process for applying a thin layer of silver to one side of a pane of glass. His choice of silver instead of the previously used lead and mercury was not only safe but a lot more reflective. It took him 20 years to refine this process to a stage where it could be marketed to manufacturers.

His method stood until 1930 when John Strong, an astronomer and physicist from California University of Technology, created a method using a vacuum to deposit aluminium foil to telescopes and scientific instruments which was later appropriated for mirrors. This is the method we use to this day.

However, mirrors have been around for as long as you can imagine. The first mirrors were simply pools of still water. Who can forget the story of Narcissus who fell in love with her own reflection in a pool of water?

Moving beyond puddles, in Turkey, obsidian mirrors from 6,200 BCE were discovered in an archaeological dig and people in Iran have used polished copper as mirrors at least as early as 4,000 BCE. Mirrors have been present throughout history, being developed independently by different cultures.

A Chinese source from 673 BCE states that the queen wore a mirror at her girdle, suggesting that the compact mirror has a long history as well. But the decorative, clam style, compact mirror we would think of today didn’t rise to popularity until the early 1900s when as Andrea DiNoto states in Art Plastic: Designed for Living that as “women began to enter the workforce in greater numbers it became necessary to transform vanity items into portable forms.” And these compacts became increasing decorative statement pieces. While the compacts of today aren’t quite as important as status symbols they do owe their design to all of the interweaving stories that have been a part of the mirror’s history.

LIPSTICK BULLET

Now I’m not a regular lipstick wearer, but when I do, nothing makes me feel quite as special or grown up as rolling up a lipstick bullet or the satisfying magnetic click of the closure as I purse my lips together.

Like mirrors, lipstick has been around in some form or another for aaaages. In Mesopotamia, Queen Shub-ad of ancient Ur, was reportedly the first to use a lip colourant made of white lead (not her best idea) and ground red rocks, in approximately 3500 B.C. From around 2000 B.C. rich Egyptians, including Cleopatra a little later, used crushed carmine beetles, and occasionally fish scales for shimmer, to add colour to their lips.

But we’re not here to talk about the colour itself, instead, I wanted to know about the bullet that holds the product. While there are rumours that, in the 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth, who made her own personal crimson shade, invented the lip pencil by mixing ground alabaster or plaster of Paris with a colouring ingredient and rolling the paste into a crayon shape before drying it in the sun, it wasn’t until the 1910s that lipsticks were readily sold as sticks. Guerlain is credited with that move, selling lipsticks in paper tubes or tins to aristocratic customers, a style which became more accessible by World War I.

Maurice Levy is most often credited with creating, or at least commissioning the first metal push up tube for lipstick in 1915, which was then mass produced by The Scovill Manufacturing Co. However, there are a number of arguments that suggest such packaging was actually in use before Levy began selling it through his cosmetics company.

Whoever invented this first push up packaging, it was only popular for around a decade because in 1923 the first swivel-up lipstick was patented in 1923 in the USA by James Bruce Mason Jr. There seems to be little written about how he invented the swivel tube, except for his own notes on his patent:

“An object of my invention is to provide a device of the character described which affords facilities for removably holding a lipstick so that the latter is available for application when desired and when not being used is protected by an encasing body.” 

What we do know is that after Mason Jr.’s invention lipstick soared in popularity because it was now portable and easy to use. Meaning women could mimic the styles of popular movie stars on the go, including taking inspiration from the original “It girl” Clara Bow who made the “Cupid’s bow” style of lipstick application a hit.

Key Sources:

There are plenty of design myths around. Some are good, some not so much. So, I thought I would debunk some of the worst ones because letting them lie is pretty damaging to the industry and individual designers. So here we go…

 

THE CLIENT ALWAYS KNOWS BEST

Clients give briefs and designers work to them. That’s the usual process. Sometimes it goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn’t. While designers are expected to keep their clients happy, they are also expected to produce the best work they can. Sometimes that means recommending something that isn’t what the client has in mind. Designers, to varying degrees, are experts in their field, and will more often than not have more experience in design than their client. And so sometimes the designer knows best, they know what will work and what things won’t and sometimes the client needs to trust in those recommendations and that they’ve hired the right person for the job.  Sometimes, as Clients from Hell has shown us, they are just plain wrong as well.

 

DESIGN IS JUST MAKING THINGS PRETTY

It’s not. As I discussed in my post about design thinking, design is a process, not just an outcome. It’s quintessentially about making things that work, quite often those things are attractive but that isn’t their only function. Steve Jobs once said, “design is not just what it looks and feels like, it’s how it works” and while he might not be a designer I think he really hits the nail on the head. In order to make something that works a designer has to understand the user and their needs and be able to work to fulfil them. Design isn’t just making things pretty it’s understanding what people need and making their lives easier, no matter what you’re creating.

 

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS PHOTOSHOP

Just as design isn’t just making things pretty, photoshop isn’t the only skill a designer needs. There are a whole wealth of technical skills you need from sketching to an understanding of typography to working with vectors. But more than that you need to know how to be empathetic, to understand both a client’s needs and a user’s needs and balance those things. You need to be able to work to a brief and know when you can push it. You need to understand all of the basics from composition to hierarchy and how to make them work seamlessly. If you freelance you need to know how to be an entrepreneur, how to manage a customer. I’m not listing all of these things to put anyone off learning to be a designer, but to explain to those customers out there who think that when they’re hiring a photoshop monkey they’re getting so much more that they don’t see, and that skill set deserves respect.

 

CREATIVITY IS AN INNATE TALENT

It always makes me really sad when people say they’re not creative, or when, on learning I design in my spare time, people say I didn’t realise you were a creative person. Everyone is creative. Everyone has an imagination. It’s not some special power some people are born with. Sure, we all channel our creativity differently, but it’s always there. On the flip side of that, the suggestion that creativity is innate does a disservice to the amount of work that goes into harnessing and utilising your creativity. Creativity’s not a thing you have, it’s a muscle you have to work.

 

A LOGO IS ALWAYS THE ANSWER

I’m not sure if this is a common enough misconception to be a myth, but the number of times I’ve heard people say they just need a logo is staggering. Repeat after me a logo is not a brand. Logos are great, they can be little visualisations of your brand they can be printed on anything and everything, they can even become icons. But they’re not all you need to make a brand. A brand is all of the decisions that go into the identity of your business, its character, its products, how it speaks, what it represents and, yes, how it looks. A logo is one little part of that how it looks element. The other bits of the visual element include deciding the fonts and colours you’re going to use, the kinds of images that will represent your brand, even tiny things like the way pages on your website are structured. Yes, logos are great but they’re only a tiny part of a big old brand puzzle that will evolve over time. A logo on its own is not the answer to your branding woes.

 

DESIGNERS ARE ALL HIPSTERS

There seems to be an idea out there that all designers dress and look alike. Yeah, that’s not true. Designing is a job. Like any other job anyone, no matter where they come from, look like, or listen to, can do it. The more we encourage diversity in the industry the stronger and more interesting it will be. That’s all I have to say.

 

YOU CAN GET GOOD DESIGN ONLINE FOR FREE

No no no no no no no. One of the auto-fill options on google for “logo design…” is “free” – how terrifying is that? Good design comes from good designers, and good designers like all other human beings need to eat and somewhere to sleep, and so they need to be paid for their work. It’s really quite that simple. If you want design that resonates with your customers, with your brand, with your vision, if you want quality work, if you want a good working relationship, if you want to be challenged to make something really great you need to pay because it’s right and because someone who can offer you all of those things has spent years studying and practising and you need to respect that. Pay designers fairly.

Which design myths really get your goat?

The humble zipper helps most of us get our lives, and our trousers, together every single day. It’s a simple device that revolutionised clothing and has been the fly-est fastening (sorry) around since the 1930s. But how did the zipper come about?

The story of the zipper begins at the same time and with the same man as the sewing machine. In 1851, Elias Howe received the patent for a ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’ which resembled quite closely the zipper we use today. However, instead of pursuing his ‘Continuous Clothing Closure’ Howe got swept up in the promotion and success of the sewing machine, without which we probably wouldn’t have the zipper anyhow.

Whitcomb Judson took up Howe’s mantel forty years later with his ‘Clasp Locker’ a device which was very similar to Howe’s ‘Continuous Clothing Closure’ but made specifically for shoes. Judson debuted his invention at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, but it was an unsuccessful trip. Judson couldn’t get his demo ‘Clasp Locker’ to stay closed and thus no one wanted to buy it. Despite this set back, Judson founded the Universal Fastener company and was the first person to take a zipper to market, arguably making him the father of the zipper.

That said, it wasn’t until Gideon Sundback took a stab at the zipper that it got the interlocking teeth we rely on now to keep our trousers up. Sundback’s interlocking teeth didn’t come apart as easily as Judson’s meaning his was a more secure fastening. Not only that but, he also increased the number of fastening elements to 10 per inch to further increase the security and to make the sliding motion smoother. Sundback patented his design in 1917, and we’re still using almost exactly the same design 100 years later.

However, Sundback’s invention was known as a ‘Separable Fastener’ not a zipper. It was B.F. Goodrich’s marketing campaign in 1923 which gave the contraption the name we know now. It was a shortening of his slogan “Zip ‘er up”, with “zip” mimicking the sound the zipper made when it was fastened.

After Goodrich popularised the zipper as a means for securing rubber galoshes, it quickly took off across the clothing industry. Ever the trailblazers, mothers were the first to really buy into the zipper trend, as they made it easier for children to dress themselves. Zippers then spread to adult clothing and bags. The big turning point in the popularity of the zipper came in 1937 when they beat out buttons in the battle of the fly, and became the preferred fastening for trousers over buttons. The zipper eventually became so popular later that decade that everyone who was anyone, from French fashion designers to Esquire magazine were praising the zipper as a revolutionary style staple.

But where does YKK come into it? If you own a piece of clothing with a zipper in, it will, more likely than not, be stamped with the letters YKK. Those letters stand for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha who are a Japanese zipper manufacturer who are responsible for the creation of over half of the zips sold in the world*. That’s more than 7 billion zippers every year. They’re so popular with manufacturers because they make every element of the zipper in house using their own custom built machines, right down to smelting their own brass, and have been making zippers since 1934. This all means that they’re trusted for creating consistent quality, which means a lot when the quality of a zipper can make or break a garment’s usability.

So, in conclusion, the zipper passed through many hands, in relatively similar forms, just waiting until its moment came. Once again, as in other design stories I’ve written about, marketing played a huge part in making the zipper a design classic. Even though it was a fashion, nay life, changing invention it still needed to be sold at the right time to the right people to really take off.

I think I’d also like to note the fact that the more of these design stories I write, the more I’m noticing the power of mothers and housewives to make a product a true staple – they were the first converts to Dr Martens, they championed the t-shirt because it was cheaper and easier to clean for children, and they bought clothes with zippers on to encourage kids to dress themselves. This might have to be something I do some more digging into.

As ever if there’s anything you want to see a design story of in the future do let me know!

Key Sources

*Ironically the majority of their zippers are now manufactured in Qiaotou, south of Shanghai, which is known as the button capital of the world as it claims to make almost two-thirds of the buttons produced globally.

As the last post in this little trio about learning graphic design, I wanted to share some of the best advice I’ve received and pass it on to you guys. I’m constantly learning and constantly finding new mentors, whether that’s through work, friendships, or just finding new guides online. I’ve received so much advice and help and inspiration, far more than I could chronicle here and far more than I can probably actively remember. But these are some of the pieces of advice that have stuck and I keep with me to this day.

PUSH STRAIGHT LINES AND PULL CURVES

This one’s something quite practical I learned at school but I say it to myself before I draw up any plans and it has never failed me.

DON’T SKIP PEN AND PAPER

It’s easy to just jump into designing on the computer, but someone at work recently reminded me that the best way to start is sketching it out with pen and paper. There’s something about physically drawing out your ideas that frees up your ideas and I’m all for anything that gets me away from a screen.

START WITH THE USER

This is particularly true of service design, but it applies to anything you’re making. You should start with the person you’re designing for, and working out what they actually want and need. It’s the only way to ensure you’re making something that’s going to have an impact on other people’s lives. Real people often behave quite differently to how you imagine them.

YOU’RE ALWAYS 3 YEARS BEHIND WHERE YOUR TASTE IS AT

This one keeps me going when I feel like whatever I’m producing is awful. There’s always a skill gap between your taste and your hands, so don’t worry if what you’re producing isn’t as good as the best thing you can imagine just yet it shows you’re reaching and you have good taste. Plus in 3 years you’ll be able to do it easily.

EVERY DECISION NEEDS TO HAVE A PURPOSE

You should be able to go back through everything you decided in a project from colour palettes to layouts to paper choices and be able to explain why you chose to do what you did well, because sometimes you’ll have to.

DON’T DESIGN IT TOO MUCH, KEEP IT SIMPLE

A design project isn’t an excuse to show off every new skill you’ve learned, no matter how shiny. Keep your work as simple as you can, and make the design do the work behind the scenes it doesn’t need to be doing jazz hands on the page.

ASK YOURSELF “DOES IT WORK?”

I was told this at an internship regarding advertising, but I think it applies to pretty much anything you make. Make things that work. That means you need to know what you’re making is supposed to do: is it meant to make someone buy a car? To feel happy? Sad? To make a process easier? To convey some information? Make sure whatever you’re doing has a purpose and it fulfils that purpose.

A CLIENT ISN’T JUST PAYING FOR YOUR HANDS THEY’RE PAYING FOR YOUR BRAIN

I love this one because it reminds me to give my opinion when working with clients and to push back when I think I need to. A client isn’t just paying for a photoshop monkey, they’re paying for a designer so make sure you are one and use your experience and knowledge to inform everything you do and recommend.

CHARGE BASED ON THE AMOUNT OF VALUE YOU’RE ADDING

If someone is going to make more money because of your work, you should be paid according to this added value. If you’re designing a poster for a concert and them having a good poster is going to make them an extra £500 of profit they can afford to pay you more than £25. Just bear that in mind. This also came from a client so it resonated even more with me.

DON’T LOSE WHY YOU LOVE IT

This final piece of advice is from me to you (and to me). Whatever you love about what you’re doing right now don’t forget it, keep that thing close and keep doing it. Don’t let a passion become passive.

 

What’s the best piece of advice you’re received? Who has inspired you or taught you something that’s helped shape your practice?

I’ve spoken a bit about my own design learning story over the past couple of days, but as I’m mainly self-taught I thought it was important that I got the opinion of someone who actually went to design school in part to give you guys a balanced picture and in part because I’ve always want to know what it’s really like. So, I reached out to the talented and lovely Hollie Arnett and asked if she wouldn’t mind chatting all things design school with me.

If you don’t know Hollie you really should because she’s ace. I stumbled across her on YouTube where she shares her design knowledge and does design challenges, which are just so fun to watch. As well as being a YouTube star in the making she’s also a creative director at her own design studio, an amazing hand-letterer and an all-round wonderful human. Also, if you enjoyed this little interview I’d highly recommend checking out the archives of her blog where she’s written in depth about many of her uni experiences.

Hey Hollie, could you introduce yourself for those who haven’t heard of you yet?

I’m Hollie Arnett and I’m a 22 year old designer, typographer, letterer, creative director, freelancer, founder, videographer, YouTuber, writer and the list goes on. I’m originally from Bradford in England but I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life on the other side of the world in New Zealand, currently in the capital, Wellington. I’ve been creative all my life, and eventually discovered design in high school. After that, I went on to study a four year long Bachelor of Design with Honours at Massey University Wellington, majoring in Visual Communication Design, which I finished last year. I’ve also been working freelance or for in-house design agencies since I was 18, working on a range of branding, marketing, UX/UI, editorial and lettering design. These days I can be found co-running my own design agency with my business partner, and I recently founded my own hand-lettering & typography studio too! 

You say you discovered design in high school, what was it that really struck you and how did you know that was what you wanted to study further?

A huge part of it was thanks to having a really great teacher. She saw that I was quite good at design and was enjoying it, so she helped me to learn and grow and encouraged me to pursue it further and I am forever grateful to her for that. I always knew I wanted to do something creative and she helped me to narrow it down to design. I loved the collision of creativity and problem solving that design offered. Painting and photography which I also studied were creative, but design felt like it had more thought behind it and could serve more of a practical purpose. I never really understood what a designer did or what types of jobs they got or anything like that, I just knew that it made me happy and I wanted to learn more about it.

How was your experience at Massey? Did it live up to your high school expectations?

I honestly loved Massey so much and I’m so glad I went there. I looked at a few different universities in New Zealand but Massey was the only one that felt like it really focused on the visual communication design I wanted to learn. I also walked into the printmaking room and instantly fell in love! I learnt so many different things at Massey, and I enjoyed that you had the option to have a really varied learning experience, or super focused on one aspect – it just depended on what you wanted to learn and how specific you wanted to be. I ended up taking a lot of print and typography papers because that’s what interested me the most. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I left high school and the first semester was a big adjustment period, especially moving cities and out of home for the first time at the same time, but once I got into the swing of things it exceeded my expectations in so many ways.

What would you say the key things you learned at uni were?

I learnt so much about the fundamentals of design which I still use in everything I do today, and I don’t think my work would be as successful if it wasn’t for that foundation. I also learnt a lot about myself, particularly about my design process and working style which helps me to get better results by working in a way that is best for me. Another key thing I learnt is the importance of feedback in creative practice and I know now that I will always push my work so much further if I’m surrounded by people willing to give that constructive feedback. I encourage everyone to be engaging in creative feedback because I experienced its benefits every day at uni and I’m so thankful for it!

You said you’ve been freelancing and working in agencies since you were 18, are there anything you’ve learned on the job that you didn’t at school? 

Throughout university, it was always expected that the end result would be working in a design agency. There were never really discussions about any other options but as I started working in the real world, I quickly figured out that there are more pathways as a designer. I now know that I don’t enjoy working for someone else, and I hate working on the same thing for too long, I just get bored, so I now work for myself, doing a variety of different projects, and that’s just the way I like it! 

I also learnt so much about engaging with clients, writing contracts, creating invoices, managing other creatives and all the other practical, logistical things about being a designer, especially running your own design business. School was really conceptual and more about actually designing, which was great, but there wasn’t a lot of teaching around the other stuff. I learnt that on the job and from teaching myself!

You’re now freelancing and running your own agency (along with a super cool youtube channel), is there anything you wish you’d learned at uni that you’re working out now?

Oh thank you! I think overall, I wouldn’t change a thing about what I learnt. I guess I wish that there had been a bit more career guidance or people to help you learn more about where you want to go. For most of the time, I felt a bit lost, not knowing whether I should niche down and just do papers on one aspect of design, or just do all sorts. I didn’t know what I should be aiming towards, or what my options might be at the end. I think if I’d been taught more from the beginning about the different jobs in design and the different ways to get there, I would’ve had a better sense of direction and maybe figured out where I wanted to be a lot faster. But in some ways, maybe it’s good to just go with the flow while you’re learning and not worry about the outcome! I’m just a super future-focussed person so I like to have a plan!

Teachers are so important as you say, what’s the best piece of advice you received on your design journey so far?

My favourite tutor always says that you have to understand the rules before you can break them and she is so right. It’s totally fine and fun to break the rules, use colours that shouldn’t work together, combine “ugly typefaces,” put stuff upside down, do things that go against the “rules,” but you there has to be a reason behind it and you have to understand why you’re doing it and why it works first. Those colours have that effect because there’s colour theory behind it. Those typefaces weirdly work together because their typographic history is so rich. Things upside down can be great sometimes because it makes the viewer feel a certain way. There are tried and true fundamentals of design, and if you have a solid foundational understanding of them, where they came from and how to wrangle them, you can then use them in powerful, sometimes unconventional ways to make a statement. 

What knowledge would you want to pass on to someone thinking about or just starting a design course at university?

It really is what you make of it. If you work hard and soak up everything that you can, you’ll learn so much and set yourself up for success. Make the most of your time at uni because you have access to some of the smartest people in the industry, you’ll learn so much that will form the foundation of your career, and there are so many opportunities for students to excel. Talk to your tutors, learn from your peers, go to events, pay attention in class, give it your all and get your money’s worth! 

Also, it will probably be super tempting sometimes, especially when assignments are nearly due, to stay up all night to get more work done. It is much, much better to get some sleep and come back the next day refreshed and ready to go so please get at least a few good hours every night, and look after yourself! You’ll do much better work if you’re well rested, well fed and well hydrated!  Believe me, I learnt my lesson! 

Find and follow Hollie in all of the places: