On the cards

Jim Davies finds out whether designers are spreading some Christmas cheer this year with creative offerings or resorting to shop-bought cards

This year’s Christmas card from Elmwood (below) was inspired by a throwaway remark made by its financial director, Deborah Longbottom. ‘I don’t mind what you do,’ she said. ‘Just don’t spend any money on it.’ She was taken at her Scrooge-like word. A simple self-adhesive sticker with witty explanatory text and festive greetings was produced on the office printer. Staff were asked to bring any old cards in. The sticker was slapped casually over auntie Madge’s festive scrawl from the previous year, and all the money saved went to charity. ‘It worked best when the handwriting showed through underneath,’ says Elmwood creative director Richard Scholey.

This DIY aesthetic and skinflint posturing could not be more different from most of the offerings featured in Festive by Scott Witham, RotoVision’s new book on promotional mailing. Here, some of the excesses of Christmases past are revealed in all their glory. It’s quite staggering to learn what designers will try to cram into a postbox – small trees, seeds, light bulbs, bottles of booze, chocolates, decorations, CDs, masks, plates, clocks, calendars, socks, traffic cones, cheesy snacks, dates, scarves, pine cones, stickers, balloons, small portfolios, coal and carrots, cigars, mittens, freeze-dried meals, snow storms, nodding dogs and lip balm.

All these items are given a suitably festive – though often painfully convoluted – twist. But hey, you can forgive anything at Christmas, particularly if there’s a free bottle of plonk involved. Or a free book. Recessionary times must be surely be upon us when even Michael Johnson eschews his usual lavish seasonal production. His 2002 message is simply printed on the brown cardboard packaging protecting his recent book, ProblemSolved, where the copy reads ‘This year’s Johnson Banks Christmas card is a month early, has a hard cover and is 228 pages long’.

So with the chill economic wind that’s blowing this winter, even the most profligate designers may consider joining the card-buying public rather than spend precious time and money conjuring up their own cards. But what’s out there that passes the stringent designer taste test?

For the second year running, the Design Museum has commissioned several leading names to produce cards, including Paris-based M/M, product designer Marc Newson (above right), fashion photographer Nick Knight and Stefan Sagmeister. Sagmeister’s make-your-own log fire kit and Newson’s Christmas tree heart monitor are the pick. Available at independent bookshops and the Royal Academy, Canns Down Press publish seasonally relevant works by Royal Academicians, as well as a great line in Eric Gill woodcuts, for those who want to appear discerning. Woodmansterne is another small independent publisher, whose charming illustrated cards by Children’s Laureate Quentin Blake are certainly worth considering (above left).

Paperchase’s shelves are packed with Pop Art-inspired repeat patterns of snowflakes, reindeer and crowns, with foil-blocking and die-cuts particularly prevalent this year. Among the clean, graphic images, there’s the odd rogue kitsch element, like a photograph of a glass reindeer covered in sparkling purple script.

The best contemporary offerings are from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (available at Selfridges and selected stores). While there are many beautifully rendered abstract images available, the most striking cards are by the accomplished paper engineer Robert Sabuka, including a pop-up snowflake and intricate pop-up cathedral. If you prefer to keep things typographic, US-based Quotable Cards (also from Selfridges and selected stores) sells a line of skilfully laid out and selected quotations, such as Walt Whitman’s highly pertinent ‘Peace is always beautiful’.

Happy Christmas card hunting.

Latest articles