Sunday, 30 September 2007

Probe Records - a Flickr Photoset

I started a new Flickr account and uploaded the Probe Records images at full quality, which will save me from transporting them around everywhere.

The set can be found here:

Friday, 28 September 2007

Record shops - research

There's a whole load of websites out there for local record stores. Most are a bit rubbish, to be frank and harsh, in terms of what I am aspiring to achieve. Some are so bad they don't even provide contact details, missing a trick and defeating one of the points of having a website. Some are very good for local independent store websites, however. I hope to learn about good design by learning from the good - and the bad.

Other Music

This store, no larger than Probe, is based in New York. Though the orange and blue colour scheme might be questionable, the online shop service seems slick, with easily searchable collections of LPs. The database table doesn't format very well in IE, though - borders are too apparent. It also has a merchandising page, something I could perhaps take into account when designing the new Probe website. They do stock T-shirts and gig photographs by Mark McNulty. Also, even if I don't provide an online shop page the merchandise can still be advertised.

The Other Music site also has a 'rarities' section which links to a selection of LPs on eBay. These have been provided by the shop themselves. Overall the site is easily navigable and suitable for its purpose. There are also some good extras on there like info on buying tickets for upcoming gigs and FAQs.

Rough Trade Records

This site is more like the aesthetic I am trying to achieve, at least in a small way. The portal page, which links to separate sites for the actual shop and an online retail one, is very similar to the Other Music one - maybe there is some sort of standard here.

I will first look at the one for the shop. The black, white and pink colour scheme is more print fanzine-ish and there is an appealing photograph in the background of the shop exterior. The dark night shot with lights goes well with the black colour scheme.

There is also the added feature of buying mp3s. This has its own website with a slightly different colour scheme and layout. Photos are black and white and the side-on rack of vinyls is a prominent feature. I think this is really cool, and the bits of grey background for less important info (such as the small print) works.

This site could prove to be a big influence on my site design for Probe.

Stormy Records

This is another independent record store, this time based in Michigan, USA. The major gripe I have with this is the maaaassssive list of records on the front page. Agh, at least they could have split it up instead of a long database splurge. Apart from this the site is not overly repulsive, the light blue and white background is acceptable.

There is also a prominent link to the MySpace page which Probe might benefit from. It would seem record shops have a rung on the ladder with the social networking sites which might contribute to helping save record shops from dying out any time soon. I could play on this a bit more with the Probe site - maybe extract comments from the page or even reskin it in Photoshop or something.

There is an individual page for in-store events but right now there is nothing there. Maybe this is a bit of a wasted page when nothing is happening and they could have merged it with a 'past gigs' feature including photos etc.

Grand Harmonium Records

I have cheated a bit with this - it isn't actually a site for a record store, rather a record company. I have included this as I think the deisgn is fairly effective - a mahogony effect old style radio is dominant and its knobs provide the link buttons, which is novel.

A bit I don't like though - the blog style is OK but I'm not sure about it. This seems popular with some of these website with new entries for each day/month whatever so people can see the latest records in stock. Maybe a site which has functions for MySpace style comments and blog style entries will be easily updatable and thus successful.

Sweet Memories

Finally for today, this site with a nice name but a slightly cheesy logo. Has a bit of a retro feel, at least in parts, with its link farm type pages and rubbish animated gifs. Is easy to navigate, though.

Actually, I have decided I don't like this one.

Probe Plus

It took me three days to find it but there is a website for Probe Records' label, Probe Plus. With artists such as Half Man Half Biscuit and Marlowe, this website is much more developed than its sister site. The site has a different design scheme and is better with more advanced stuff but is still a bit rough around the edges. Overall I would say this looks more appealing.

There's also a bit more on the history. It's embedded in Flash so I can't copy and paste so I have retyped this out here. I would have had to do this anyway, in all likelihood, to be placed on the main Probe website. It will, however, need a further spelling/grammar check.

A history of Probe, retyped (opens in new window)

This article brought up some interesting revelations about the shop's links with the Cavern Club and details some of the location moves. This really ought to be placed on the main Probe Records website as it is relevant there, if not more so than Probe Plus.

A lot of stuff is in 3D, including a tour map and some UFOs flying around. There's even a 3D representation of the old shop on Button St that was closed down in the 1990s which is really cool, if a little bland. Reminds me of The Crimson Room and could possibly have been created by an LJMU student doing the same project as me...

The site doesn't really format as well on a PC as a Mac and a smaller screen resolution suits it. An example of this is the home page which looks a bit cluttered and ugly. It is, however, difficult to format for multiple browsers and formats. Overall, the design works and functions well.

Location selection

I have come to the point where I am pretty confident in a selection. I have decided to go with Probe Records, creating a website and/or associated media.

Although I did consider other locations, I suppose it was always my gut feeling that I would do Probe when I visited the shop. I did not get this from going into the others - places like Microzine and the restaurants were a bit too modern and straight graphic design stuff. Probe, however, has that punkish, rough around the edges style that I would most associate with my style of working, particularly my typography.

There are already some elements that I could take and develop on though I think I would like to keep the main black and white logo due to its recognisability to those already familiar with it. If I were to redesign it I would like to remain reasonably faithful to the original.

The website itself is pretty bare right now. I would like to keep most of the content - the flyers archive, the home/news page, the map + full contact details page etc. but also add some new pages, such as one for links, something revolving around the history of the record shop and also something people can submit their own music posters and flyers to - something to advertise gigs. Maybe this could be an extension of the MySpace or make use of it.

There's also not much on there about the service the offer. Maybe they could get away with not having a records list - perhaps this would be too much effort to be regularly updated (the site is currently revised once a year) - but there should definitely be something about them being able to get 12"s and such should people request them.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The death of the local record store

Collection of links to articles that may or may not prove useful.

Article at Designer Magazine
Article at
American Article - links to websites
Article at
Article at Utter Trash

Probe Records - bit of background

"Since 1971 this CD and record store has been the leading light of Liverpool's underground music scene." -- Beatlemania

“There aren’t many independent record stores left now, which makes it really difficult to get your records out. It is only the likes of Probe Records [an independent record store in Liverpool] who will stick our flyers up to advertise gigs.” -- Stephen Hart, Edge Hill University

Probe Records was founded in 1971 on Clarence St. Liverpool. After two relocations it moved to its current home in Slater St.

The shop still holds gigs and promotional events. Local band The Dead 60s were set to play there but cancelled at the last minute. It also seems to stock tickets for a number of selected events in the area and does limited print runs of CDs.

Probe has had a number of employees that have subsequently gained recognition. Pete Burns and Pete Wylie are among those who have worked there before their success.

Local culture photographer Mark McNulty exhibits a couple of photographs of the store on his website. Indeed, one of them is used on the current Probe website and there is a selection of his framed photographs available from the shop itself.

The MySpace seems to be updated more often and serves as a substitute for a frequently updated site. Comments there seem to hark back to the 70s and 80s when the shop was presumably in its prime. The MySpace is actually an extension of the store, with people posting flyers for upcoming gigs in the area. Maybe I could include on the site a section where people can submit their own flyers for an 'upcoming events' section.

"During the 1980s one of the great independent record stores, Probe Recordss, was next door to The White Star (Pub). A Mecca for the city's up-and-coming musicians and future stars, who would purchase the latest records from the irascible staff. Access to the shop was hindered by gangs of mohicaned punks who sat on the steps (this reviewer included). Probe also had its own record label, Probe Plus, who gave the world bands such as Birkenhead's Half Man Half Biscuit."

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Location Assessment: Probe Records

Didn't know this record shop was so important in the history of the Liverpool music scene - apparently some big names in the business have been employees there, not to mention some pretty big name bands doing gigs there. From a bit of research, it seems that this place is also a pretty popular place for tourists - 'Beatlemania' isolates it as a place to visit if you are in Liverpool.

From visiting the shop myself it seems to have a lot of character and a rough and ready style. The shop itself is a mish-mash of hand written notices, posters, stickers and bits of music memorabilia, a grotto of a musical archive, if you will. There's a certain chaos about the place - almost every inch of wall space is covered with stuff accumulated over time. Even the sign above the store is in a state of disrepair.

Despite all this though, things are kept neatly organised, maybe due to the sign saying "Oi! Try to keep the tracks in order... pleeeze!" There's a load of other hand written signs about the place, too, which might be a source of inspiration in itself.

There's also a homeliness, a DIY attitude from the olden days before faceless stores, employees and commercialisation took over. There's certainly nothing like this where I live - most of the shops close down within a month of starting up but this shop has seemingly survived for over 35 years. Steepled in history, the shop is a focal point in Liverpool music and not without reason.

In short, there's loads of scope here to design something and there's already half a design scheme in the shop itself. This establishment would certainly appeal to me with my 'primitive' thrown-together punk design style and with the website as minimal as it is right now, there's room for improvement. Throw in a bit of an interest in the local music scene and maybe I could create something good. Hopefully.

More locations

Had a bit of a walk round a few shops in Liverpool this morning and took some photos. Selected them mainly on interesting shop fronts and the products they sell but I planned to go to a few locations anyway.

Smoothie Revolution

A small bar with a green colour scheme. I would generally agree with this choice and think it works - it's the colour generally associated with health food and the apple is an extension of this. I don't quite understand the cross, though - maybe a reference to political revolutions?

The exterior, it seems to me, is one of the most 'modern' in Liverpool. This isn't exactly a compliment but it does stand out from the rows of bog-standard chippies and take-aways along the road.

They don't have a website which is maybe where they are missing out. It's the chance to tout their wares and boast about exactly how healthy they are compared to McDonalds. An Internet presence could really see the franchise take off - this is where I would come in. Virals and advertising could be useful for Smoothie Revolution.

Hairy Records

Tried here before Probe but it was closed at the time, so I couldn't get a good look round. Good little cartoon and show font stands out but the sign itself is a bit faded.

There's actually a video featuring the interior of this shop on YouTube. It doesn't have as many posters and stickers and things and is a lot larger than Probe but that doesn't mean it hasn't got an identity. Looks a bit more commercial and straight-laced, less 'punk'.

Again, no website, but then it is only a small business. Some scope with the existing shop front iconography/typography and maybe the chance to produce a 'straighter' website that isn't as messy.

Location Assessment: Chip Shop 2000

The Chip Shop 2000 store on Slater St. sells video games and accessories. I went down there today to check it out. It's only quite a small store and has a rather unflattering exterior but most importantly the website sucks. In fact Chip Shop 2000 does not really have one - the last time it was updated was in 2004 with the message 'New website coming soon!' or something to that effect.

If I were to create a website for them, there could be some kind of online ordering system or at least the latest offers on products. It seems, though, that the shop deals in mainly new games rather than second hand retro stuff. Maybe another visit is in order to pick up some leaflets etc. and to scout out the interior further.

The shop's sign (left), interestingly, has a different style of font than the main banner sign. It's a more retro style and has a more 'computer' old sci-fi typeface - reminiscent of credit card fonts like OCR A. This is a bit more promising. It's also interesting to note that, as mentioned above, the website on the sign doesn't actually exist, or at least there hasn't been anything there for over three years.

This is what it looked like before the 'update'.

Right is what it looks like now. The name immediately brings to mind the pun involving potato chips and computer chips. Yeah, I see what they did there. I think. Nice colour scheme, pity it doesn't fit with the existing product promotion. Maybe they were going for the 'fried chip look' with the yellow background. All that's missing is the red 'ketchup' text. This may be something worth pursuing if done tastefully though there is a danger of turning the site into one for McDonalds.

Other possible locations

Went through some of the other places on the suggestions list, mainly looking at the websites. Most do actually have one but some don't:

Art and Design Academy Shop (LJMU Academy site)
Utility (right)
Drome - no website
Alma de Cuba - no website
Site Gallery - no website

Obviously where there is no website there is scope to create one. Some designs are built to spec so I would like to stay away from these. At the moment I am drawn to Probe for its distinct character and the LJMU A+D Shop for its ease of reference.

As for the others, a lot don't really appeal to me as establishments. Some already have really good websites that don't need to be improved and I can't really see myself doing a purely design based piece (flyer, magazine, booklet etc.) so some of them are ruled out right away.

The restaurants (such as Alma de Cuba, right) are very upmarket - at least in my experience - so I feel a bit out of my depth with those. And besides, assuming this were a real-life commission from the company themself, they'd want parts of the establishment's existing design scheme in there, in all likelihood. This restriction put me off somewhat.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Identity and Promotion

A new project - select a local business and produce ideas to promote the establishment. This could be flyers, interior design, websites etc.

Initial research - websites

I would most like to design a website for this project but I shall see what happens as I research the locations.

LJMU Art and Design Academy website
Been looking at possibilities for the LJMU Academy shop, for which I would provide the website. There is already an online shop students can purchase equipment from and there would be a certain amount of JMU vetting with this, perhaps keeping to the overall Uni website aesthetic.

The site, at first glance, seems fairly well designed but is too corporate and has bits that lets it down. There is excessive scrolling and an over saturation on colour. Part of me says I could do better, which could prove motivation for following this path.

Sauce Multimedia - Liverpool based design company
Just a local design company founded by some ex-students of LJMU. The website has an appeal, maybe the red sauce is a powerful image for me. The grid squares design seems pretty familiar too.

I considered doing something along the lines of my research project and this is a possibility - there are some video games shops in Liverpool that may be possible businesses to create promotional material for. I will look around the city for some possible locations.

Probe Records
Not much of a website but has a certain DIY charm. The banner is actually better than the LJMU Academy web page - it has a character reminiscent of earlier days of the web, which, as I mention, is an aesthetic that appeals to me. Here is a chance to perhaps apply my 'punkish' 'rough and ready' typographical style to create a new site. Indeed the current updater admits suffering from 'techno-jag', ie he can't be bothered updating the site constantly.

The image to the right is from the door of Probe Records.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Red Interactive Agency

Just a cool home page I found. Red Interactive have created a browser controlled small environment with visitors as avatars. I was a German war guy, User 88573! You can interact with the environment and talk to other people on the site. All this on top of the actual website text - really good.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Marketing/Design - Setanta Sports

Recently I signed up to Setanta Sports. The packaging and promotion for this sky/cable channel is certainly striking, with its black on yellow colour scheme, perhaps to try and be more prominent than its main rival Sky Sports. I think it's pretty memorable too, reminiscent of wild west wanted posters.

The website introduces shades of grey into the scheme:

Combined with photo edits, these are, in my opinion, successful. I mean, they persuaded me to buy it for a start. I used the yellow-black colour scheme for some rough cuts of cards and banners for the Illogicopedia and this is something I may look to develop for a future design project.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Mass marketing: GTA: San Andreas

Can't remember if I have posted this before, but the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas included a mass marketing campaign with a number of teaser websites linking with aspects of the game. They could be classed as 'viral websites'. Many of these were released into the public domain in the run up to the release of the game, which proved a massive success.

Epsilon Program
Fear it, do it
Cluckin' Bell
West Coast Rap Legends

I love the sense of humour in these microsites, produced by Rockstar games. I like the Cluckin' Bell one personally, though some of them make more sense if you've played the game. The range of the sites reflects different aspects explored by the game, which for 2004 was vast.

The official site for the game is worth checking out, and the game itself is awesome, offering a free roaming environment with numerous interactive opportunities, even embedding arcade games such as Dropzone which can be played in some supermarkets. Or, you could just rob the Cluckin' Bell fast food restaurant.