Steve Russell and the Art of the OII

I am asked often about the design of the OII’s logo and the related images, such as the networked world and wired people, used to help create the OII’s brand, and embedded within the Institute’s Web site and print materials. The logo and related designs of o’s and i’s mimic streams of 0’s and 1’s of the digital world, but have an infinite number of possible permutations that are played with by our Web team and events staff. These wonderfully creative and original designs are the work of Steve Russell.

OII Logo

I met Steve shortly after I came to the UK in 1993, to direct the last years of the Programme on Information and Communication Technologies (PICT). I was looking for someone who could help us to convey the degree to which people shape information technologies that in turn have major societal implications. I saw a painting Steve had done for a BT lecture, entitled communication. It was abstract, timeless and open to a huge array of alternative interpretations.

We met to discuss our vision of communicating the social aspects of technologies, which he immediately interpreted to draw a range of sketches that were absolutely perfect. He has illustrated PICT materials, and painted, for our final report, an abstract figure which has become somewhat of an icon for me of the human imagination behind the development and use of the networked computer. The thumbnail sketch is:

The Box

The original hangs on my living room wall.When I returned to the UK to direct the OII, I reconnected with Steve. A logo competition had been launched before my arrival, but it yielded no compelling designs. Once Steve became involved, ideas began to flow and the work moved rapidly, particularly after we converged on Steve’s design of the logo, which is now used on all of our materials. You can see the fruits of his work in the images on the OII Web site, but also view a far wider range of his work.


One thought on “Steve Russell and the Art of the OII

  1. I am most familiar with Steve’s art in publications design, but feel all his work is characterised by humanity, wit and a ‘lightness of being’ that always makes me feel better for having seen it. This warmth is evident in the lyrically rounded figures that are his iconic anchors, and reflected in many of his more abstract designs. He also has what I have always felt is best described as a ‘delicious’ sense of colour – delicious because I often can almost taste the childhood sweetshop dreams they conjure – too strong, pure and fresh to be called pastel, but never harsh or cold. The simplicity and flow of his line drawings and painted ‘washes’ of colour also create a sense of space, even when filling a tight corner on a page. I have worked with many designers on publications, and none has been more prepared to try to meet the aims of the publication as a priority and to complement, not dominate, the words. His desire to keep a ‘crafted’ hand-painted feel to publications using the highest-tech printing process is one of his most distinctive approaches to designing printed material. However complex the messages might be in the academic and technical topics of the publications we have worked on, Steve has also always sought to reflect them in the design. He has brought his own special artistic sensibility to reflect these messages in apt visual metaphors and images. His translation of the ‘OII’ abbreviation as ‘0’ and ‘1’ digits to become a logo and building block for various flowing ribbons and waves was a wonderful design conception I think. The digits obviously relate to digital technology, while the way they form patterns gives a sense of the social focus of the OII’s objectives. This has the simplicity of all great design ideas, at the same time as allowing for much variation for different contexts.

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