By Alan Dye (designer) and Alastair Creamer (writer)
We've worked together on this project but it was Alan who came up with the two ideas that would literally shape our poster. The first was the decision to cover the page with our writing - diaries, quotes, stories, thoughts from friends, musings - and then out of this 3,000 Odyssey a large, shimmering Z would appear. Initially we thought we could do this purely through alternating the pressure of pencil on paper But several trials (and one massive false start) later we settled on 3b and 8b Faber-Castell pencils (we refined this to a 2b) We've done all our work at Alan's studio just off Tottenham Court Road. Come to think of it, I've never seen Alan outside his office! We've listened to lots of music, drunk tea, swapped stories. At times it's seemed effortless but the reality for both of us was that when we got together we instinctively pushed things aside, shoehorned time in and started talking. Out of that seemingly 'unproductive' time came this perfect marriage of design and content. Yeah, well we would say that wouldn't we! Anyway, Alan's last piece of advice before I start on this properly is "go easy on your R's", so that's what I'm doing. To begin with I started at the end - with Z. I'd asked for it (the letter that is) thinking it would be rather fun, intriguing, a challenge. But where to start? I found myself sketching lots of different zigzags on corners of pages, scanning the dictionary, feeling the increasing weight of responsibility as time passed. Nothing. Zilch. I chased some lost causes: perhaps the highest scoring word in scrabble would be something like Razzmatazz (it isn't and apparently there's only two Zs in a game). Names and faces drifted into my thoughts - Zoro, Zadok, Zidane, Zebedee, Ziggy, Zorba, Zappa, Zhivago and with them came images of Anthony Hopkins in a mask, Nigel Hawthorne in the Madness of George III, Zidane's weird bald patch, Emma Thompson (I'm sure her Dad had something to do with The Magic Roundabout), that ring of make-up on Bowie's forehead, Anthony Quinn dancing against a sublime Grecian backdrop, Frank's goatee, and Omar's moustache. I thought of the difference between zed and zee (when was I aware that there was ever a difference?) and also of how my computer keeps Americanizing everything by substituting Zs (or zees). What have we got against them anyway? They add a bit of style to a word. Lets face it, anyone can have an S. In desperation I phoned a friend in Brussels who's a bit of a linguist - did he know of any alphabet or language that didn't use Z? I made a list of my favourite words beginning with Z; those that used a ZZ (this was a great list); words that sounded as if they should start with a Z (words like xenophobia - now rapidly acquiring a new meaning for me, a fear of the letter Z). But something strange was happening. Z is a letter with so much associated energy - zap, zing, zeal, zillions, zoom, zest, zenith, zealot, zany, zip and yet, at the same time it was draining me. I felt zonked. And then one night, watching the telly, distracted, my glance zeroed in on the atlas we keep tucked away on a low shelf, out of the way. I opened it at the index, in the back under Z and there was my answer, in fact hundreds of them: Zagazig (Egypt), Zagreb, Zaire, Zambeze, Zanesville (USA), Zanzibar, Zeebrugge, Zermalt, Zhangzhou and Zibo (China), Zimbabwe, Ziz (Morocco), Zongo (Zaire), Zonzor (Liberia), Zouch (Nottinghamshire - I just thought I'd throw that one in), Zug, Zurich and Zyyi (in Cyprus - the last place in my atlas). There were names that conjured up places, people, holidays, cultures, disasters and dreams. And then of course, there was the most famous place of all beginning with Z - zverinololovskoye - that renowned Russian hideaway. There were over 500 of them compared with only 100 or so words on the dictionary. Z firmly belonged on the pages of an atlas. It was more suited to representing place than words so I started thinking about Z in terms of travel as a concept rather than a letter - a fixed chiselled shape. Suddenly, it became something new, something else - the end of the line, a possible destination. Even a starting point, a pause in your journey, a watering hole en route. It could be the journey itself, like a river. But whatever it stands for, it is elusive, exotic, just out of reach, at the end of the earth, the back of beyond, somewhere over the rainbow, the dark side of the moon. It is the compass point you never knew existed (just try turning an N on its side) but it is there - like Xanadu, utopia, Platform 9 ¾ it's the dream holiday you crave and never quite make as well as your destination from which you turn. Z is like a post card that has no place name on it, that secret beach that no one has yet discovered, a direction half remembered, a restaurant someone raved about but never gave you the exact address. It's an announcement on a station only partly heard through distortion. The road that seems to lead nowhere. Z is like an eclipse behind a cloud. Alan's diary: some time in March 04. Bumped into Freda Sack one rainy lunchtime on Charlotte Street, Soho. Carried on the discussion about her local swimming pool. Apparently there's a swimming pool between our two studios - been kidding myself for a while now about doing some exercise and swimming seems to be the best bet! Speedo trunks turned into a poster conversation and would we (I was with Ben, one of my two partners from NB Studio at the time) be interested in creating a poster for the ISTD? Great we said and bought a sandwich. Zabra (za'bra) [sp] n. A small sailing vessel formerly used on the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula. May 13th: Received the brief. First thought: shit! All the luminaries of the design world are on there - and me! Second thought: where are my two partners' names? Nick Finney, Ben Stott and myself have been running our design practice for over six years and almost every project is a collaboration. Third thought: end of July deadline, loads of time and closed the email. Fourth, fifth and sixth thoughts: z - z- z- Zax (zaks) [A - S seaxs] n. A slater's hatchet with a sharp point for perforating the slate a sax. May 8th: Received an email from Alastair Creamer, my 'Z' partner. I email back and arrange a meeting at my studio. Work is hectic at the moment two designers have left and their replacements are still yet to be found. A difficult task considering there are zillions (I'm beginning to think of Z things) of graphic designers pouring out of art colleges. Zarf (zarf), [Arab], n. An ornamental cup-shaped holder for a hot coffee cup. May 17th: Alastair bounced into the studio a very enigmatic character full of energy. I'm knackered! There's been a presentation or deadline every day now for about three weeks and I can't see an end to it. Needless to say the letter Z has been as distant from my mind as it is from the letter A. Over a tea we learn a little about each other and discuss our letter. We sketch, chat and pen a meeting in for a couple of weeks' time. Zoom (zoom) [onomat], (Aviat.) To turn upwards suddenly at a very sharp angle. May 20th: Introductory meeting at the British Library. Said hello to a few familiar faces and was led into a lecture theatre where we supposedly would be familiarised with using the British Library resources. I'm not too sure about anyone else but I didn't have a bloody clue what the two ladies were talking about. The third lady however, gave a fantastic short talk on the history of illuminated letterforms. I've been driving past the British Library since its construction in the early 90s and always wanted to go in but shamefully have never visited. What a wonderful place. Picked up my reader card and spent a couple of hours exploring the library. Zingaro (zing gar o) [it] n. (pl rure) A gypsey. May 24th: Alastair has written loads and is full of ideas. There are over 500 places in the world beginning with Z. I've done nothing apart from look up zombies on the internet. We arrange another meeting. Zimb (zimb) [Arab.] n. A dipterous insect common in Abyssinia resembling the tsetse and hurtful to cattle. June 9th: Zenneyang. Mandarin for Howzat' The Chinese have apparently taken up cricket in a big way and I have an idea. British Library - words - reading - diary - collaboration. Why not create a poster out of our diaries? There are only 135 words beginning with Z in the Oxford dictionary. Alastair has had so many thoughts and great ideas about Z, why not express them all? Let's celebrate our letter. I run the idea past Alastair and he likes it. We want the poster to be a collaboration in its execution as much as the content. We will fill a sheet of paper (1,040 mm wide x 1,555 mm high, four sheet - a sense of scale is important) with our thoughts, in our handwriting, using a pencil. I will map out a capital Z in the middle and when we cross it we will press harder with the 3b pencil. The result - I don't know until we try it, but I think it will work. Zooid (zo'oid), a. Having the nature of an animal, having organic life and motion. N. A more or less independent organism developed by fission or gemmation: a member of a compound organism an organic body or cell capable of independent motion. July 15th: work has quietened down a little. I order some large (thank you Justin at Fenner Paper) and buy a gaggle of soft pencils. I like the idea that this poster has become a physical challenge. I'm ignoring my daily tool - the computer - and everything that I use in my general graphic design work: grids, typefaces, colours, inks, embossing, typesetting, images and printers. I map out a test sheet and Alastair and I start writing and experimenting with HB pencils. It works!!! Alastair will plan the order and structure of the text and I will be responsible for most of the words, but I will still have to find at least 1,500 words about Z!!! Lazy or just good at delegation, I email a number of friends and clients a tiny brief and receive some bizarre and great thoughts on their interpretation of Z. It all adds to the texture and makes funny and interesting reading. Still looking for that swimming pool! Zythum (zi'thum) [Gr. zuthos), n. A malt beverage used in Ancient Egypt. Alastair's diary continues on from here: Friday 16th July. My day starts the frantic phone calls to Australia after I hear my son Ollie has been knocked out snowboarding and helicoptered off the mountain (he's fine). My eyes prick as I speak to him in the emergency ward. I know the day is going to conclude with a difficult meeting. Someone's been rubbed up the wrong way! In the middle of all this the oasis that is Alan and our Z poster. Today of all days I need him to be fun, generous, present. And he is all these things despite the fact that he has a thumping, walloping hangover. Big party last night and can't seem to shift it despite large doses of Resolve. Today's our deadline for these diaries. Not so, says Alan. Saw the woman who's in charge of these at the party and she said Monday's fine. We've got a reprieve! The man's a genius, sober and drunk. The hangover's worth it just for this alone. On his ping pong table which serves as our work top our gigantic poster is laid out. Alan has drawn 100 lines across it. It is pristine, prepared, poised. First, we need to trial the idea. Alan's had a first stab so I now write the 30 lines of my script on to another huge piece of paper alternating soft and hard pencils. After ten lines I get into a rhythm. My handwriting starts to relax. It still takes an hour. When I stick the results on the wall the whole office gets up as one to come and look. They like it in a quiet way (most of them are hungover too). Alan is the centre of need. He starts with me and then gets pulled off on a job, someone else wants him on the phone. He's seeing a designer later and needs to schedule that and then there's something he has to sort out for his girlfriend ('she'll kill me if I don't make this call' - this is the famous girlfriend who's been to Zanzibar - an early Z connection). Someone's going to M&S. He asks them to get him a fruit juice and a blood transfusion. In between all this we haggle over margins. I'm concerned that as the lines are so long, if somebody (you, for instance) actually wants to read our ramblings they'll never find their way to the start of the next line (did you manage it?). This doesn't worry Alan. He likes the writing to the edge of the page. In the end I think I gain an inch each side. And this is one of my real weaknesses - tweaking, shaping someone else's ideas. The amateur designer in me coming out. I do this all the time at work (I've done it ever since I can remember) and it drives designers mad. Another example: Alan had come across a typeface called Ziggyrat. To me, it's blindingly obvious we've got to use it. It's squat, producing a square Z that seems to fold back on itself. It's just meant to be because it starts with a Z. Alan, in his wisdom wants something cleaner, simpler. And, of course, he's right. The Z he's picked is the bare minimum a Z needs to be - across, down, across. The end result will be beautiful. Saturday 17th July: I now realize why this diary was destined to be late. In this morning's Guardian there's a piece about how Heinz has put the Z back into Beanz. Beanz Meanz Heinz was dreamed up in a London pub by Maurice Drake in 1967. It was voted best slogan of all time in 2000 and now, at last, beans has the spelling it deserves. English teachers everywhere will be cursing Heinz as they red-line increased mis-spellings until eventually they give up and admit defeat. Zs are making a comeback. They're in fashion. I'm working on the most important, pivotal, letter at the moment of its coup. The end. Here are a few messages of support from some of Alan's friends and colleagues. From: David Fowle Re: Z Alan Dye, entrepreneur extraordinaire and full-time shark asked me to come up with some copy for a meaningful poster which features the letter Z. Sadly the poster is quite large and needs copious amounts of copy. So how do I fill the space? Should I write things like 'Zidane, he is ze best footballer in ze world'. Or is the plural of kangaroo, kangarooz? There's also that song 'zippedy something or other' where the guy's walking along with animated blue birds fluttering around his head. No, I thought. That's a load of old cobblers. And then, suddenly it hit me like a wet haddock around the chops. A few months ago Alan started designing a business card for me on the vague promise of a free meal purchased by me at no fixed time in the unforeseen future. I now realise this waz (there you go I haven't forgotten) a severe error on my behalf. You don't get anything for free, in this life anyway. My fault for being a cheapskate I suppose. As a result Alan has blackmailed me into writing this bit of copy by saying things like, 'F**king hell Fowlzee, I'm designing all your corporate identity sh*t. The least you can do is write a bit of copy'. Fair enough, I totally agree I said several months on however Alan has his copy while I'm still waiting for my business card. Lazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzy old bastard.