Paul McNeil is one half of MuirMcNeil, a collaborative venture with Hamish Muir, exploring systems approaches to design for communication. In 2010 they wrote and designed U:D/R 03 ThreeSix, a Unit Editions research paper. The ThreeSix project won two prestigious Awards from The ISTD (International Society of Typographic Designers) in 2011. Paul is also an independent graphic design consultant specialising in type and typographic systems. He teaches in the postgraduate design area at the London College of Communication as Course Director of MA Contemporary Typographic Media.
What art and design has excited you recently? Any good exhibitions or events?
I visit galleries and exhibitions a fair bit but haven’t been to anything better than The Russian Linesman at the Hayward Gallery back in 2009. It was curated by Mark Wallinger on the theme of disputed or blurred boundaries and was packed with provocative and playful pieces about perception and belief, such as Wallinger’s own amazing mirrored Tardis and his Oxymoron flag (image below). I think the catalogue is still available – worth looking out for.
The Robinson Institute, now on at Tate Britain, has similar qualities to the Wallinger show. It’s a truly extraordinary collection of disparate artefacts, assembled into a highly provocative narrative by the brilliant Patrick Keiller.
The current Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition at the Barbican is a must-see for obvious reasons, though its presentation overall is a little impoverished. I visited the Bauhaus Dessau earlier this year; by contrast, it felt like returning to the Origin. I had to be dragged away.
A friend has been introducing me to modern architecture recently. It’s been such a pleasure to experience great design which concerns something more substantial and more transcendent than visual communication. Some highlights have been Erwin Heerich’s Insel Hombroich and the neighbouring Langen Foundation by Tadao Ando, Peter Zumptor’s Field Chapel and his Kolumba Museum in Köln, and David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum (image below) is worth the price of a ticket to Berlin in its own right.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
At this very moment, Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place, a single voice transformed into massed choirs and multilayered harmonies. Just gorgeous. On my iPhone, Conlon Nancarrow’s Study Number 21, weirdly thrilling music for player piano made by the composer inserting holes in paper reels, played inhumanly fast, and fascinating as an analogue precursor of programmatic music. I seem to have reached a stage in my life where the three minute song feels short and brutish, but not in a good way. My preferences these days are leaning towards avant garde classical music: Part, Takemitsu, Gorecki, Varese, Harvey, etc. Electronic music bridges the gap – Fever Ray, Burial, early Autechre (thin Autechre, not fat Autechre) and anything by Brian Eno, particularly Another Green World which I keep going back to.
What are you currently reading - books, magazines, blogs?
Ah. This could take a while. You should have set a limit here.
I buy books all the time (no exaggeration) and I read a great deal but I can never quite keep up. I am trapped inside a permanent media backlog. It doesn’t help that I buy a lot of books for their object quality alone. This can be hugely problematic because the more you attend to the surface the harder it is to penetrate it. On my desk is a terrific new edition of Malcolm Gladwell’s works, three beautiful books in a slipcase, designed by Paul Sahre (image below). It’s all very restrained, with meticulous attention to detail and materials at all levels. I’m sure these are excellent books but I already know I will only ever look at them.
To read for pleasure, I’ve found a way to cheat my attention displacement disorder. I listen to audiobooks. The BBC dramatisations of John Le Carré’s Smiley books are great – Simon Russell Beale is brilliant in the lead role – but Michael Jayston’s one-man versions of the same books are much better and astoundingly satisfying. Of many others, David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives is also perfect for the medium, with a different performer reading each chapter. It’s audio typography.
Of course, I do read a lot for work and I’m lucky because that largely means working with big picture books. My most recent top reads are David Rault’s Roger Excoffon: Le Gentleman de la Typographie (great title, great work, great book) and Sophie Beier’s Reading Letters, a legibility study of rare depth and veracity.
I’m addicted to too many design and typo blogs to mention, though Pinterest can be good too, as long as you strenuously avoid all boards headed ‘my style’. Among the less mainstream blogs I follow are cabinporn, Hole Index, Brian Heffernan and graphicporn.
Great! And have you moved (some of) your reading to iPad or Kindle?
No. I haven’t felt an overwhelming desire to own either yet. I know it will happen sooner or later, but I don’t much like the virtual reading environment, partly because I identify it with work and activity, but more because as a frame to content it is so present, inflexible and clunky, both in terms of software and hardware. I like the edgelessness of books, the lovely way they can be confused with real life, to paraphrase Daniel Pennac.
Are you a fan of cinema? What is your favourite film of all time?
I like a good movie but I’m no cinema maven. Like most of my favourite things, my preferences change all the time, though I’ve probably seen Wings of Desire and The Hudsucker Proxy (images below) more often than any other films. They have common qualities in terms of their linguistic density and visual poetry.
This doesn’t answer the question specifically but it seems to be related: I ditched my TV several years ago but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as really meaty TV series – give me four episodes of Wallander, Borgen, Broen or Forbrydelsen back to back and I’m as happy as a svin i skit.
What are you currently eating?
My current favourite sandwich is the Marks and Spencer Pork Pie with Egg and Salad Cream. Nature may abhor the pie sandwich but it actually works.
U:D/R 03 ThreeSix, the research paper designed and written by MuirMcNeil, reveals the aesthetic and ideological thinking behind their typeface ThreeSix; a system of six optical/geometric typefaces. It explores the possibilities of using parametric principles to design geometric fonts which are distinctive at large point sizes, but that can also be read at smaller sizes in bodies of extended text. You can read more about ThreeSix here.
Wim Crouwel notes: “Fascination is the key word that comes to mind when I study ThreeSix. It is a fascination for the use of geometric systems in design that has resulted in these remarkable typefaces.”
Also have a look at MuirMcNeil's Wim Crouwel poster.