Experimenting With Web & Sand

Obviously there was considerably more to my time at MW Publicity than the stumbles, errors and the learning curve of my early days there. As time passed I learnt the art of paste up and the skills of graphic design. One great upshot of this was taking the lead on certain projects, rather than the more senior and highly talented Rod, my studio manager. Despite leaving some 18 years ago some of this design work is still amongst my favourites I ever worked on.
One such a project was the exciting and forward looking brochure for Web & Sand. A client of ours, at MW Publicity, had branched out from their traditional IT business into the very new world of the internet and website design. I can’t remember the date exactly, but my guess would be 1996 or 1997. Even the idea of the internet was a new concept, never mind selling commercial websites to businesses. I was really lucky and very pleased to be the one to lead the design process for this project.

It’s hard to imagine now that there was a time where the internet was in its infancy and only a minority of people knew what a website actually was. Web & Sand were very forward thinking. They weren’t aiming for simple, GeoCities-esque websites. They saw the future and we’re exploring data capture, secure areas, online payments and fully commercial websites. Remember this was against a backdrop where most businesses didn’t yet have internet access at all.

So our first aim was to explain what the internet was, and what a website was, before we could even start on selling the products and services. I spent a great deal of time with the clients, and thinking of the most user friendly way forward. What really struck me about the early websites was how easy it was to jump from one page to another at the click of a link. This, I decided, was what we needed to show the world.

Web & Sand BrochureMy idea was to develop a brochure, broken down into pages with handy information about the internet and websites, pages explaining what Web & Sand offered, pages on how businesses could benefit, and what potential website owners should do next. Then there would be semi-circular sections cut out along the edges of all internal pages. Each of these would be labelled with the title of another page. These pages would be flagged up in the text in underlined, different colour text, much like the links on a website. This would allow someone reading the brochure to flick back and forwards easily through the pages, jumping between pages, just as if they were using a real website. Reading about websites and are interested in selling online? Place your thumb in the cut on the edge which leads to that section and leap ahead through the brochure. Want to head back to websites? Find the thumb cut navigation for that and leap back. It was as close to a website as we could get in paper and print.

And that’s not all… Not only had I set up a small, screaming 28.8 modem at home but we were forward looking at MW Publicity and had internet access, our own (hideously expensive) domain, and I was developing my first ever website. With all this internet access I had discovered, and was quite taken with, NASA’s first foray on to the world wide web. My concept for the brochure was to use images of the planets from the solar system, using the official NASA stock. We used print outs from the ‘net for the design stages, which was a first in itself, way before Google Images. However the client ultimately felt that planets were a little too sci-fi for a solid business venture.

Time was now an issue if we were going to get the brochures completed on time with a new visual hook. This time I focussed heavily on ‘world wide web’ and ‘business’. We needed something circular to match the cuts for the thumb spaces too, so ultimately the solution was obvious. Coins, foreign coins. We soon learnt that you can’t use actual currency at life size in print. Or at least you couldn’t in the late 90s, for fear of forgery I guess. So, we applied to the bank for a range of old foreign and UK coins no longer in circulation.

Sweet Foils for Web & SandAnother new technological breakthrough we had recently installed at MW Publicity was a high end, high resolution colour scanner. Thus I dutifully cleaned the coins up as best I could and scanned them in direct. No need for photography here. With the idea of making it seem that the coins were laying on the page straight scans were the best answer. Artwork approved it, and deadline looming, it was time to go to print.
In hindsight this was a pig of a job to print, even with the new desktop publishing technology. Every spread, with the exception of the covers, had a unique cutter guide which was needed to cut the thumb holes accurately so that they would display the correct (half) coin in the correct location on its relevant page. Every spread was cut bespoke using a cutter that would never be used again. Then, it was all worth it. The concept, the idea, the execution, and the new technology made this brochure that was, in our neck of the woods, much talked about. It is, still some 20 years later, one of my favourite ever projects to have worked on.
As an aside to all this experimentation I also tried pushing the boundaries with regard to logo design for Web & Sand as well. Ultimately they would choose a more stable and simple two colour design, and for all the right reasons. Back then it was considerably cheaper to print in two colour rather than in the four colour process. Although the brochure used the CMYK four colour process all other print items, for example stationery, was to use just one Pantone and black for economic reasons. So a simple logo was ideal. Which is a shame as I had spent some time developing logos using direct scans of scrumpled chocolate wrappers and other foils. My favourite and proposed design used the foil wrapper from a chocolate orange carefully selected from numerous direct scans. It’s a shame it would never see the light of day, but probably an experiment too far.


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