Customers take a lick at Royal Mail SmartStamps

Royal Mail has launched a stamp that customers can design and print themselves, prompting some concern that good stamp design – and, indeed, the stamp as we know it – may be under threat.

The digital SmartStamp, introduced last Thursday, can be created using software now available on Royal Mail’s website, www. royalmail.com, and paid for over the Internet.

But while Royal Mail acknowledges that the SmartStamp is an ‘evolution’ of the stamp and is not subject to traditional rules governing its design – the Queen will not approve every permutation and her profile is not required to appear either as a stamp’s central image or as a miniature silhouette – it is adamant that conventional postage stamps will not be affected.

‘We want to reassure designers and philatelists that we have no intention of abandoning traditional postage stamps or Special Stamps,’ asserts a Royal Mail spokeswoman.

She says the SmartStamp is simply a Web-based form of pre-paid postage – akin to a Postage Paid Impression – with the ‘added bonus’ that customers can customise it. ‘[The SmartStamp and the conventional stamp] are totally separate and they have very different markets,’ she explains.

The SmartStamp is aimed at people who work in small businesses or from home, and are looking for an easy way to pay for postage as well as to personalise it with a company logo or photographs of themselves or their products.

The news will relieve designers who are worried that SmartStamp might threaten Royal Mail’s Special Stamp programme – or flood the market with amateur designs.

‘There’s an inevitability about the march of progress that sometimes leads to excellence being compromised,’ says Roundel director Mike Denny, who is the creative hand behind Royal Mail’s latest series of Special Stamps, Classic Locomotives (see above).

‘[In Britain] we’re bloody good at [Special Stamp design]. It’s something to be hugely proud of. If you look at other country’s special edition stamps, British ones are much better. They [reflect] wacky, English humour at its best. I’d hate to see that threatened,’ he adds.

CDT Design founder Mike Dempsey, who art directed the 48 stamps produced during the Millennium year, says SmartStamps could produce very good results in the right hands; for instance, ‘if a designer or an allied industry produced a piece of work’. But he says this should not soften our attitudes to designing stamps in the UK.

‘Stamp design is an arduous process. A lot of thought, research and care goes into it. In the wrong hands, [we could see] the proliferation of a lot of bad design,’ Dempsey says.

Williams Murray Hamm creative director Garrick Hamm takes a very positive view of the SmartStamp. ‘I think it’s a great idea for people to be able to create their own stamps. It will be interesting to see what people come back with, and to judge it against what creatives have done,’ he says.

‘I think people may find it more difficult than it sounds, though,’ he adds. ‘It takes an awful lot of work to distil a design into [a] really small [format]. It turned out to be harder than we thought’.

Last year, Hamm art directed WMH’s series of Special Stamps celebrating the human genome project (DW 20 February 2003).

Nonetheless, Hamm points out that the SmartStamp offers a unique opportunity to creatives who might wait years to earn a crack at a postage stamp. ‘I waited 15 years to design a stamp, and it would be great if my daughter could do it a lot sooner,’ he says.

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