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The visual vortex at Full Table: a website full of pictorial wonders

mark-lazenby-down-the-rabbit-hole-cmyk
Illustration by Mark Lazenby, marklazenby.co.uk

I’m sorry. By the end of this column, I will have completely eradicated all productivity from the rest of your day, simply by mentioning fulltable.com.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the first of a ‘hey check out this URL, it’s like totes inspirational’ series (if I was going to do that, every month would simply be a link to that site where a life-size blue whale swims through your browser window), but this site, The Visual Telling of Stories, is rather special. I simply had to share it … and not just because I thought there was a small chance that it was maybe cursed.

I originally stumbled upon it whilst on one of my regular excursions around Google, looking for obscure/large/copyright-free images with repurposing potential; visual rare grooves ripe for sampling. Usually, this journey ends in the darkest recesses of Flickr, but this time I found myself tumbling down a new rabbit-hole. First I was perusing some Japanese family crests. And then I found a thing about 1930s cattle branding … some diagrams demonstrating frisking technique … a bawdy 1959 magazine called Sir! … an entire book about correct serviette usage … it just kept going.

THE BEST WAY I CAN DESCRIBE IT: IMAGINE WHAT A CROSS-SECTION OF OF TERRY GILLIAM’S HEAD WOULD LOOK LIKE

And now I can’t close the tab, I’m hooked. As well as all of the wonderful content, part of the site’s charm is how easy it is to get lost. It’s vast and labyrinthine, no two pages offering the same navigation options. With it’s complete disregard for the user experience or consistent design (each page appears to have been built from scratch), and reliance on buttons and tables, I initially assumed it was a mothballed site from the 90s. But further investigation revealed that it is still very much a going concern.

The site was created and is maintained by Dr Chris Mullen, initially as a place to host supporting material for the University of Brighton’s Narrative Illustration/Editorial Design MA, but has since taken on a life of its own. Now there are hundreds of pages of visual material from books and magazines and maps and pamphlets, updated regularly, messily. The best way I can describe it: imagine what a cross-section of Terry Gilliam’s head would look like.

On one page – Mullen’s explanatory notes are somewhat scattered – there’s a note on the aroma of the site (“If it were possible I would send you the smell, the evocative odour of the period paper”); elsewhere there’s a rationale for the deliberate anti-design of it (“I hate so many other websites for their appearance of gentility … their slow wittering release of uncertain information in electric blue 6 point chatter … Web designers are a bloodless brood”). It’s rather refreshing; in a medium that is in a constant state of erasure, here’s something that transcends decades of progress and accepted standards of how a website is supposed to function. And it’s one of the finest resources of public domain material I’ve ever come across. Or, in Mullen’s own words:

A LYRICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF VISUAL PROPOSITIONS
RUGGED DESIGN IN OPPOSITION TO ELEGANCE
IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU COULD EVER THINK
JUST EXPLORE — NO CLUES FROM ME

And just like that, your day is ruined. There’s no point resisting. I know you intended to get all of those important tasks done, read the rest of this magazine, maybe even check out that whale thing; but instead you’re going to sit right there and gaze at scans of A Juggler’s Guide to Social Interaction, Part One and wonder what happened to your life. I really am sorry.


Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a freelance designer based in York. See danielgray.com and @gray

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