La Villette

Design: Johnson Banks

Design: Johnson Banks

Johnson Banks is no stranger to the poster game, its series of British Council diptychs, contrasting ‘old’ and ‘new’ Britain, caught the public imagination a couple of years ago and was well covered in the national press. Consultancy director Michael Johnson is often at his most wry and self-mocking when he’s his own client, and posters for his various one-off talks and lectures are always worth looking out for. The consultancy is currently working on a new series for the British Council, as well as a selection of educational posters for the Design Council.

In addition, Johnson Banks is continuing to produce some quite radical work for La Villette, the Paris-based cultural institution, which consists of a park, a science museum and a music centre. Originally commissioned to rework La Villette’s corporate identity, the relationship blossomed and the design group has now been given responsibility for producing everything from A5 fliers, Metro posters, and even 35mm promotional films (produced in conjunction with BBC Resources) over a 12-month period. ‘It is a classic arts client which really lets you explore your ideas,’ says Johnson. ‘In effect, we are acting as their ad agency.’

The identity consists of a simple, but effective, sloping branding device – a bar which runs down the left or right, top or bottom of every piece of printed material. Typeset in caps, in one weight, of one typeface – Helvetica Compressed Regular with 25+ line spacing – with the ‘V’ of Villette cutting into the strip from the image area, it brings a graphic consistency to material selling everything from puppet and jazz festivals, to high-brow theatre, opera and exhibitions. Its restraint allows the accompanying image to be suitably wild and arresting.

‘There’s no literal English translation,’ says Johnson. ‘But the client wanted the work to be what they call “decallé”, which kind of means edgy, avant-garde, disturbing.’ Some executions certainly fit the bill – for an exhibition intriguingly entitled Le Diable Sucré, Johnson Banks used a devil’s silhouette burned out of a piece of toast, juxtaposed with a rudimentary biscuit in the shape of a three-breasted woman.

Johnson has no qualms whatsoever about moving into advertising territory – after all, he’s always cited the 1960s work of the seminal US ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach as one of his major influences. ‘I don’t feel there is a barrier,’ he says. ‘It’s all about the fusion of words and pictures – although it’s quite weird that we’re doing all this work in French.’

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