Icons of England

Readers of this blog know that I’m an Anglophile and that I have very fond memories of my time spent in England. Much of that time was spent pondering and observing the cultural icons of that dear nation, and trying to distill, as simply as possible, what makes England England.

Turns out a new group called Icons: A Portrait of England has popped up to answer that same question. The cultural institution aims to help Britons, and others, identify English culture though history, sport, food, entertainment, etc.

Some people argue there is no such thing as a shared English culture. They say all those invasions by the Normans and Romans simply left us with a ‘hotch potch’ of other people’s cultures. Paradoxically, this melting pot is what makes England unique. And today’s multicultural communities make this mix even more vibrant and interesting.

I quite agree. In fact, you could argue the same point about America — except for us it’s not so much a case of Romans, Saxons, Normans, but instead Spanish, English, Native American & African. While I had read similar statements, trust me, it’s much more profound to come to the realisation yourself.

Now a commentary on design. First, the icons.

These icons are sharp, simple representations of their much more complex concepts and images. The use of white silhouettes against a coloured background makes them easy to spot and to doesn’t complicate the situation with too much detail, which might spark debate about regionalism and true ownership. The colours are well-chosen; obviously Imperial Red (PMS 186) will be included, as it is a staple of British culture, but brown and green are just as important as the English have a strong relationship with the land itself. Perhaps this is why they added the blue as well, to tie in to that whole Earth-sky-trees concept that is the British countryside. Grey I can only imagine represents the Cities. My only quam with the icons is that on this page, they don’t seem to be colour-coded. It would be nice if brown was for History, and blue was for sport, for example. You know, that Trivial Pursuit mode of design.

Second, raises the more interesting debate about British design. At first glance, I noticed that the site for Icons uses what has become the unofficial typeface for Britain, Gill Sans. For nearly 100 years, Gill Sans and it’s predecessors have represented UK design, and with recent campaigns for Visit London and the London 2012 Olympics making use of it, I don’t reckon it will vanish anytime soon. The British design aesthetic is in general simpler than the American one. More whitespace, less copy, more icons, fewer photos. While there is a converging trend in graphic/visual ‘art’, it seems that the Europeans are also more likely to use that ‘art’ in design and advertising than we Yanks. This is a topic that could fill a book (insert forshadowing here), so I won’t go too far into it, especially since this is, after all, a commentary about the Icons.

Tony Blair and his cuppa
Tony Blair sips what may be his last cup of tea ever. Ever!

One of the more humble, but oh-so-important icons is fading, apparently. Tony Blair said recently that it’s is becoming harder and harder to get a decent cup of tea in Britain. Mate, just pop in to Waitrose and buy like 100 bags for 3 quid. End of.

Upon his announcement that he will be leaving No. 10 Downing St., he regreted “that he did not do enough to promote the traditional British cup of tea.”

If I were running for office again I’d make it a major part of any platform…

Oy, don’t mess with the Tea Lobby. Maybe one day Mr. Blair will be an Icon. Or maybe Russell Brand.

Russell Brand
Russell Brand