The New Northern

The Northern venue on Tib street in Manchester has been around since 2007, when I did the first web design and build. Over eight years ago the Northern established itself as a great drinking house in the heart of the Northern Quarter, and after a brief name change, it’s relaunched this month as a new live music venue for aspiring and established bands, and I’ve been re-vamping and adding a host of new features, including the great new ‘My Calendar’ app, which uses some lightweight scripting techniques to make surfing the website a quick and pleasant experience.

I’ve created new web design for the Northern three times since it first launched. Back in the days before modern CMS’s like wordpress or drupal, the site was written in HTML3 and used Adobe’s (then Macromedia) ‘contibute’ software to login an make changes. Despite it’s flaws,  it had a great WYSIWYG visual editor (what you see is what you get) that made it easier for non-technical clients to understand how to make changes to their websites in a way that wordpress has still got some way to live up to. Not to knock WordPress, which is now one of the most powerful CMS’s there are available and has come on in leaps and bounds, and more so than ever it’s important to recognise that getting a good website isn’t just getting  a good design product, and getting a good service too. Serving clients in the long term, listening to their needs and communicating that in the works it what JCU  has always done. There are so many services out there, and good communication is key to a successful project.

Looking to get a new website yourself? Email on for a quote and find out what the new features of HTML5 can do for your website.

Summer Design Update

I rarely mention my connections to the comedy industry on my design website, mainly as I prefer to compartmentalise my disciplines so I can focus all of my creative brain on the the job at hand – whatever that may be. It’s no surprise though to find my portfolio is often filled with design work from the world of showbusiness,  and this summer is no exception.

Designs, updates and expansions.

In the run up to the Edinburgh Festival I’ve been producing new websites for Mick Ferry and Caimh McDonnell. Back in June Leeds Comedy Festival had an amazing line up of shows and upgraded themselves online, adding an eCommerce payment system , to deal with all their ticketing in-house and increase their share of profits.
Almost ready to launch is the new Covent Garden Comedy club website. One on London’s longest running comedy clubs, they’ve been looking to upgrade the website presence for a while to reflect their prestigious club.
In the North West, Frank Brockett’s Quizmasters finally get’s a website too. Franky has been successfully running quiz nights across the North West since the 1990’s and would certainly give the eggheads a run for their money.
Finally, across the pond, some illustration work for the Comedysportz improv guys in Washington DC. Their image savvy manager requested a series of heads and body illustrations that could be switched and swapped as needed to reflect the changing line up of each show, pretty unique stuff.

For another year we have a busy summer, and I’ve not even mentioned the 40 book illustrations. That’s a subject for another post!

Illustration Design that goes with the flow

All my clients are awesome, but then some projects are just a pleasure to do.  Madison Cooper (no relation) has been doing yoga since she was a child, and trained at a  Yoga school in India to gain her teaching qualification so she could return to Manchester and set up her own business teaching ‘Hatha-Vinyasa flow’. With it’s growing popularity there are many yoga classes across the city, so it was important to find a style that was unique to her and communicated the kind of classes she runs. Illustration and delicate choice of colours helped here to get a logo design &  brand in a gentle yet powerful way.  I’ve even taken up yoga myself in the last year, and can do a headstand!

Visit the Madison Yoga Facebook group, here.

Quick turn around. Illustration design on a half day deadline.

What can get done in a day, or even half a day?

I’ve had a few  illustration designs recently that had very tight deadlines, mostly to get artwork to the printers and meet submission deadlines. You might think commissioning original illustration work on a quick turnaround might sound a little crazy, but in truth it might be just what’s needed.
With a tight deadline, preparation is everything. From the concept design to final piece, it’s easy to fall into certain traps.

“We don’t have time,  just download some stock photography”.

Stock photography can help, but if you don’t  allow for enough image sourcing time in your concept pitch, an hour or more can be quickly lost downloading half a dozen images that almost-but-don’t-quite get the right message across. They then need to be approved by the client,  and if not accepted, it’s more time lost.

Illustration offers a far greater level of flexibility than stock photography. Sketch proposals can be generated quickly, then refined to get a very specific message across.
Full figure drawings, detailed backgrounds and tight accurate light and tone all take time to get right, there’ no arguing that. There is no shortcut for good artwork.
Creative and resourceful  thinking on the other hand, (that elusive part of the process that looks very much like sitting still and doing nothing)  can really save time.  Again it’s in the prep. Here are three examples;

Wring out the clowns

A thin loose sketch style doesn’t pack that much punch, but it’s ok for a background. Do I have time to draw five well known comedians and get them all looking right in a day? Nope. How about just the heads…or as I’ve done here, use the flood theme of the event to save time. Half a head each, partially submerged.

Improvised Space Opera

I’ve used photography here for a background, but an illustrated star field wouldn’t have added much time. Avoiding references that may breach copyright while getting the right message and making it funny was import. There are at least five people in the show, but time doesn’t permit – no full figures. So for an illustration,  just a hand and a visual gag.


Doing as bit of research online, nearly every dating event uses photography. There are millions and millions of stock photos of happy smiling couples online that they nearly out number images of cats. Using illustration where it’s not usually seen made this event look different and stand out, while keeping it loose and in black and white saved time.

I couldn’t to quick turnarounds everyday or I’d burn out quickly, but these samples just show that sometimes a bit of illustration is exactly what’s needed.