Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Running on 45rpm.

As well as illustrating, there are a lot of things that go on here which involve things besides pencils. For example, a few people know we make these 45rpm record adapters, and have done for years.

I was interviewed in December by Computer Arts magazine for their 'My Design Classic' feature, whereby one is asked to pontificate on a piece of design which, for any number of reasons, has stood the test of time. Mine had, of course, to be the humble plastic 45rpm adapter. Long in love with the little shape and its iconic meaning, its power of suggestion, its universal symbolism, it was the obvious choice, one which pre-dates my love for any particular font or image.

We're what's known as a 'long-tail' business - one which makes a very niche product for a very specific market, but one of which there are so many, they collectively can rival large companies - and as such we'll never retire on these. But we are the only people still making them, and we sell all over the world, to record labels, collectors, Northern Soulers, promo companies and jewellers. We can make them in hundreds of colours - and, as it has nothing at all to do with illustration, It's always been a healthy diversion. There's nothing like wrapping up an order of 'stuff' when you'r used to emailing over a file.

The story is in the article itself, but it's posted at the end in its entirety, in case you don't fancy squinting at a jpeg. The more-readable PDF can be found here.

And the adapters themselves? In the shop, where else?

'I can't remember when these things first came to my attention, but I was quite small. I am of an age when you could pop into Woolworth's with £1.40 on a Saturday and buy a 7" single, and they would often come in a plain bag with one of these - a dink, spider, 45 adapter, whatever name you know it by - in the middle.

Designed out of necessity, it's endured as a symbol of music, dance, rebellion, teenagers, mods and collectors the world over. It's also something that has been adapted and customised for individual bands and movements, yet its form-follows-function necessity means that it always comes back to the universally recognised shape it is now. Even if you didn't know what it was for originally, you know what it means or represents. And I love them.

When 7"s were produced mainly for the jukebox market, they were designed around the machinery - big record players with inch-and-a-half fat spindles onto which a record once selected would drop, through the corresponding hole in the centre. When people began buying singles for use at home, the earliest record players (once moved beyond the 'gramophone!') had these wide spindles, but quickly began to be produced with the 8mm-or-so spindle we now know (I could give you the exact measurement in tenths of a millimetre, should you need it...) But record plants could still only produce singles with those ginormous holes in the centre, so the 45 adapter, first designed by Tom Hutchison for RCA, was created to fill it - snap it in, bung the record on, and hit Play. No more wobbling and sliding. As a shape, it's beautiful. Not only does it have absolute symmetry, and the ever-comforting continuity of a circle, it has personality - little limbs reaching out for the edge of the record, and gripping firmly - 'it's OK! I got it! Put the needle down!' It is additionally a symbol of an era in high-fidelity when a turntable wasn't an optional USB-enabled accessory - it was essential, and the warm organic sound of vinyl was the norm. It has the trustworthy, timeless feel of a long-established serif font - if it was one, it would be the delicious Cooper Black.

Much of my life has been shaped, flavoured and directed by music - I studied it, played it, did my courting to a non-stop stream of newly-emerging music, witnessing the birth of brand new genres as we did so. We ran a pirate radio station, made records, and met some of our dearest friends through music. This little shape is symbolic of all of that - we put it on our first ever t-shirts, we used it on our flyers, we became obsessed with the different shapes, materials and colours this elegant object was produced in.

So it was inevitable I'd end up making them, I suppose. When we discovered they weren't produced anymore, we decided to make our own. We're now the only people manufacturing them, and after four years of research, development and prototyping, they've been made to our own design right here in England for years. Niche - maybe. Nerdy - certainly. Big in Japan? You bet. But they're a timeless example of semiotics, and seeing one is like walking in under a big neon sign that says "Music Spoken Here".'

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