alex ostrowski.

Even though it’s only been a word for about a month and a half, still I would sit up at nights and wonder if I’d ever truly know the meaning of “bromance”. Now I do. I have a design crush. Meet me by Heather’s locker after home room and I’ll tell you all about it…

To be totally straight up, the work of UK graphic designer Alex Ostrowski makes me tingly and jumpy on several levels. But the ultimate reaction is that it just makes me really happy. “Shiny happy people holding hands” happy. Happy go lucky happy. Happy on the soles of my shoes happy.

Ok, so let’s break it down. I’m a writer, and I love words. I also love design, but most of the time the words in highly designed works are used more as a vehicle to augment the imagery. In Ostrowski’s work, usually in book form, the text and design are fully integrated. Truly, the very medium of the book itself lends itself towards text, but he uses his design skills to enhance the meaning and conveyance of the text in conjunction with layout, not to sacrifice it at the alter of graphic design. Each enhances the other. In the end, the subtlety and clarity of his design shine through while the message speaks much louder.

This year he won “Engage!”, an RSA created competition aimed at fostering social responsibility in young designers and challenging them to create a project that did just that. Working with the Frenchay Brain Injury Rehabilitation Clinic in Brighton, England, he created “I Am Here” to help brain injury victims suffering from post-traumatic amnesia. Directly addressing their disorientation and confusion, he created a colour-coding system and book to help patients re-orient themselves to life, time, and place. I have a feeling though that the greatest triumph here would be the sense of calm and stability it would give, just to know that someone is here and someone is helping you. I find there’s such a genuine kindness to this project, especially when you hear Ostrowski talk about it. Click here to watch a video of the man himself discussing the concept behind “I Am Here”.

Though he went to UWE Bristol for graphic design, he’s clearly also got a poet’s touch. If there was ever a more lovely, life-affirming, literary hand-hold than “I am here”, I can’t think of it.

With “Note To Self”, he’s created a big book of happy morale-boosting posters. Each page is designed to be pulled out and posted around your life, wherever you may need it. Besides being hot design with some clever font work, it’s the basic idea of it that I love the most. In a similar vein to You Are Beautiful, in a world that so often focuses on everything wrong with us “Note To Self” is simply asking for the opportunity to remind us to feel good. How fucking rad is that? I want to marry this dude.

But the goodness keeps on coming. One of his smallest projects – no larger than a business card – is one of my favourites. Having once learned from a friend with depression that therapists sometimes tell their patients to look up at chimneys so that they see more light with their eyes and release some happiness-inducing hormones, he created “Look Up”. Nothing more than a business card with the chimney counting tip, which he then distributed around low-light areas in Bristol.

I love how he seems to be on a very simple mission to induce some joy in people’s lives. Every medium can do this. We’ve all been uplifted by the usual suspects: music, film, art. But these media all have the handicap of being intrinsically a little one-sided. A movie is a movie is a movie. We’re all moved by music but once recorded we can’t add to it’s purpose. It will not alter and you can not actively change it or participate in it. The beauty of the wide open door of design, and exactly what I think Ostrowski is tapping in to so brilliantly, is that there are myriad possibilities to inspire interaction. To galvanize people a little. And through one lovely idea, well designed and handed to others in ways they will trust and understand, you can plant a seed that can sprout in untold directions. From this one card, and from the positivity it creates, there’s no telling where each individual will go. Chimney counting… and onward.

His design work might seem really simple at first, but don’t be fooled. All true creatives know the greatest challenge is to take something seemingly plain and make it perfect. I can write paragraphs for days, so much room to maneuver and flap my wings and run about, but it’s honing down a concept into that one, succinct, perfect sentence that really makes me shit my pants. I would try it right now but I’m sure I’d fuck it up.

Above all, this sense of social responsibility and passion to do good isn’t just for flair. As he states on his site, Ostrowski is interested in using “design for good” and has made a conscious decision to tangibly and directly help others with his work.

His site is a must-see for all the projects he’s involved in, but to end off here’s one more that I love:

Ostrowski says “In 2006 researchers at The University of Leicester concluded that Denmark is the happiest country in the world – this was good enough for me. In March 2008 I made the decision to visit happiness, and embarked upon a pilgrimage to find it. My experiences are presented in this book.

Only one copy exists.”

My frustration at not being able to read it is exceeded only by my joy that something like this is exists. And perhaps that is precisely the point.

Via It’s Nice That


  1. I have the pleasure of being a good friend of Alex’s – your account of him is wonderfully accurate. His desire to use his extraordinary design talent in a socially responsible context makes him a gift to this world.

    I’m trying to convince him to take The Happiest Book in the World to print – it’s a wonderful read – hilarious!

  2. dryadart says:

    you seemed on my past visits to be much more cynical than this post lets me believe you to be, which I am glad about because I am reading your book list and enjoying them immensely, (and I find cynical overdone in the art/design world…) although my students will probably be pissed off next semester when I keep sidetracking on the history of colour during my design class! I’ll be sure to send them her so they know who to thank for my summer reading!! I like business card art, its cheap, and one can give it away for free, I often make projects on business card for that reason, thanks for your eclectic blog, I am enjoying the world through your eyes.

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