Business Link is one of those rather anonymous, multiheaded, private-public organisations that exists to provide advice to businesses of all kinds – on training, exporting, management, whatever. Like Citizens Advice Bureaus, they have local centres all over the country. Business Link approached Thomas Manss to design a corporate brochure detailing the various services on offer. It didn’t take Manss long to decide this was not want he wanted to do.
‘Those A4 glossy brochures…’ he sighs. ‘They are designed to be filed. As a result, usually some secretary files them and they’re never seen again. Quite a few designers would have just done the brochure as asked. But I felt that a corporate brochure was all about the organisation selling itself, rather than being seen to help others.’
To avoid producing an instantly-filed, instantly-forgotten item, Manss applied his book expertise to the job. ‘Design is all about desire,’ he announces. What emerged at the end of the exercise is not a brochure at all, but a little card slipcase covered in textured blue bookcloth. The slipcase contains ten little stapled booklets, each in a different colour, each with a different pictogram on the front related to the service being described inside.
Corporate self-aggrandising information about Business Link is totally absent. Instead, each booklet has a sentence on the front inviting further study. ‘How can you make the most of modern information technology?’ asks one: the pictogram is a roadsign in the form of a computer disk. The Finance booklet has a lightbulb with a pound sign as its filament. The Agriculture one has the tines of a garden fork sprouting leaves. The Product one has a pair of knitting needles producing a bar code. The People booklet has the universally-recognised symbol of pointing hands, forming a stylised face: eyes, nose, mouth. And so on. Inside, the text is broken up with unconventional monochrome photographs featuring industrialists in the context of their products – bricks, netting, cheese.
This is the Fletcher influence again, of course – he would smile at the Manufacturing Productivity booklet, where the pictogram is a clock where the hands are spanners – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The slipcase with its appealing bundle of booklets works just as it is intended to. You cannot resist pulling them out and going through them. And you cannot possibly file it in a conventional cabinet, so the thing ends up on people’s desks and shelves instead. Moreover, it has changed the way Business Link sees itself as an organisation. Just as Manss intended.
This little object proves his point: that books are covetable things. We throw away papers and brochures, we do not throw away books. So a bundle of brochures in the form of a book acquires a value. The small format – like a hymn book – has an idea of pocketability and sacredness to it. And it helps to explain why – though the design of ‘real’ books is not a supremely profitable enterprise – the business of book design has valuable spin-offs into other areas of graphics. That Thomas Manss is a clever chap.