Graphic Teasign

Graphic Teasign

Posted on April 9, 2000

In summer 2008 undertook a personal project which explored the idea of impermanent, spontaneous design. This rather grand sounding idea manifested itself in a simple challenge:

To ask my fellow designers whether they would like a cup of tea in a different way each day.

I didn’t record the results initially as I wanted to fight the designer’s natural instinct to record and categorise, that only lasted for about 20 tea rounds! Over the course of a few months I asked the question in approximately 100 ways.

I set myself some ground rules for this challenge:
#1 The creation of each form of the question mustn’t take longer than 20 minutes.
#2 The the question must be created using the materials that are within the studio.
#3 The question will be asked at around 2pm.
#4 No permanent record the question is to be kept (that quickly changed).
#5 The question is to only be pitched to the design team and no-one else.
#6 One form of question is to be asked for everyday I’m in the studio.

The reasons I undertook the project:
#1 To try and disconnect the pleasure of the act of creation with the satisfaction of the end result.
#2 To try and encourage unfettered creativity by not recording the result.
#3 To practice what I’ve been preaching for sometime, ‘Think by doing’ or ‘Think with your hands’.
#4 To create prototypes of techniques or design styles I’ve seen and admire.
#5 To widen my practical experience of techniques which I could then expand on commercially.
#6 To create hands on practical material as most of my work is digital.
#7 As a brain training exercise in creativity which acts to speed up and stimulate thought processes.
#8 It’s fun and relieves the potential boredom of an office based environment.
#9 It acts as a punctuation mark for the day, dividing the morning from the afternoon.
#10 It rekindles the childlike joy of creating something without any foreseen practical purpose.
#11 Because it feels counter intuitive. Not recording and categorising the mini-creations goes against one’s natural instincts as a designer for self-promotion and collection.

There’s a very interesting talk on TED about the importance of playfulness in the creative process. It’s something which can be lost if you’re not careful in the attempt to seem professional in an commercial or academic environment.

Here’s a few of the ways the question “Would you like a cup of tea” was asked.

#1 – Written in Stains
Drew ‘TEA?’ by using semi circular stains formed from the bottom of a Mug, ‘printed’ on plain printer paper.

#2 – Application window arrangement
Using iChat’s screen sharing function took control over Graham’s iMac and created 16 FireFox windows and arranged them into ‘TEA?’

#3 – Google form
Created a Google form and ask design team to fill it out.

#4 – Google Presentation
Made a Google presentation and invited design team to join virtual meeting.

#5 – Google Spreadsheet
Created a Google Spreadsheet and shared it live with my fellow designers. Spelt out ‘TEA?’ by colouring cells. Learnt multiple people can edit the spreadsheet and the changes are instantaneous.

#6 – Google Maps
Created a Google Map with directions from Camden row to the studio. The path to the studio traces out the question ‘TEA?’

View Larger Map

#7 – David Blaine
Inspired by David Blaine’s strange appearance on breakfast TV I drew the letter T in one hand and a question mark in the other and without a word revealed them to my fellow designers.

#8 – Sign Language
Communicated the question ‘TEA?’ using sign language.

#9 – Bread & Butter
The question ‘TEA?’ is written in Butter on a slice of Bread. Slightly heated over a kettle so the butter sat properly on the bread.

#10 – QR Codes
Created a QR code using the Question ‘Do you want a cup of tea’ as the source data.

#11 – Holding up a poster
Took a photo of a extremely rough hand rendered poster in the popular cliche ‘hold it up to the camera and crop off the head’ style with the question ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’.

#12 – Tear off strips
I created a simple ad with tear off a strips, the sort often used to promote private lessons. In this case each strip contained the text ‘I would like a cup of tea’

#13 – Post-it Notes
Arranged a large number of post-it notes to form the question ‘TEA?’

#14 – Recording audio of question by team for team
Record audio of Graham asking ‘do you want a cup of tea’ and then played it back to Oliver.

#15 – Spilt milk
Manipulated spilt milk on the kitchen worktop into the question ‘TEA?’.

#16 – Cut Teabags
Cut teabags to form ‘TEA?’ and sat them on a bed of tea leaves.

#17 – Flow Diagram
Created a flow diagram of tea production on the flip chart.

#18 – ASCII
Used a ASCII generator to create retro version of the question ‘Do you want a cup Tea?’ which was emailed as text to my fellow designers at Digerati.

#19 – Flickr
Passed search string ‘Tea’ into Flickr, and displayed it using slideshow mode in order to pose the question to my work mates.

#20 – Carved into toast
The question ‘TEA?’ was created by cutting letter shapes out of a piece of toast and presenting the result on a plate.

#21 – Cups of tea
The question ‘TEA?’ was created by arranging tea cups full of tea into the appropriate letter forms.

#22 – Window panes
Blocked out the appropriate window panes with A4 paper in 2 Georgian windows and a dividing door to spell out the question ‘TEA?’. The work was created at night so the team would discover it when the light is at it’s strongest in the Digerati Building, in the morning.

#23 – Paper plane
The question ‘Do you want a cup of Tea?’ was written on a piece of A4, the paper was then made into a Paper plane and flown to the Digerati designers.

#24 – Shredded paper
The question ‘TEA?’ was printed on A4 and then passed through the shredder. The strips were then roughly stapled back together and handed to the design team.

#25 – Puppet Show
The question ‘do you want a cup of tea?’ was acted out using hand puppets.

#26 – Text message
The question ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ was sent to a work mate via a text message.

#27 – Internal phone line
The question ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ was asked via an internal phone call.

#28 – Email
The question ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ was asked via an internal email. The email used a photo template with a picture of a piping hot cup of tea.

#29 – External phone line
The question ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ was asked by calling the main Digerati Phone line from outside the building and speaking to the design team.

#30 – Wikipedia & TinyURL
A list of links was sent to the design team. Each link takes the user to a Wikipedia page. The page contains a definition of a single word from the question ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’,,,,,,,

#31 – T is for Tibet
The question ‘would you like a cup of tea?’ was asked by sending the team a link to

#32 – T-shaped arms
The question was asked of the design team by purposely outstretching my arms to form at T-shape.

#33 – Wordle
The question was posed to the design team by sending a link to a Wordle creation:
The source material came from the Wikipedia definition of tea.

#34 – String Telephone
Two plastic cups from the water cooler were tied together by a piece of string, at one end of the contraption stood a member of the design team, at the other myself. Using this string telephone the question ‘do you want a cup of tea?’ was asked.

#35 – Spotlight feature in YouTube
Using the Spotlight feature in YouTube, which allows you to add interactivity to video, the question ‘TEA?’ was posed to my fellow designers at Digerati.

#36 – Semaphore
The question ‘TEA?’ was communicated to the design team by semaphore. The flags were created from Post-it Notes and pencils.

#37 – Postal service
The question ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ was posed to the design team by a letter sent via the Royal Mail.

#38 – Keyboard mask
The question ‘TEA?’ was posed to the design team by placing a mask over their keyboards. The masks were made from plain A4 and revealed only the 3 letters and one symbol required for the question.

#39 – Facebook group
Created a Facebook group called ‘Do you fancy a cup of tea?’ and sent invitations to my design colleagues.

#40 – Tattoo
Ask my colleagues what beverage they would like to drink by writing TEA COFE on my knuckles, in a LOVE HATE tattoo stylie.

#41 – Cup and Ball trick
My colleagues were asked to participate in the age old Cup and Ball game. If they guess correctly I make a cup of tea for the team if not then no beverage is created.

#42 – Russian roulette
My colleagues were asked to play the ‘Wheel of Beverages’. A game consisted of a crudely constructed rotating arm which could point to a number of possible options; Tea, Coffee, No Drink, Water and the bullet in this case was provided by Bovril.

#43 – Photocopier
Photocoped my face with an open mouth, a little speech bubble shaped piece of paper sat where words would normally leave my head.

#44 – Finger painting
Created a finger painting of a mug of tea, signed it’ Dave aged 4′ and handed to my colleagues. Although this creation was missing a question by this stage the question was implicit in any tea based communication.

#45 – Whiteboard
Wrote a giant ‘TEA?’ that took up the length and height of the studio whiteboard.

#46 – Treasure hunt
Created a mini Treasure hunt for pre-made teas. The clue, “where Digerati comes to a standstill” was given on a hand drawn Cluedo style card. The lukewarm teas were discovered in the stationary cupboard.

#47 – DIY Business card
Created a hand drawn business card which followed the Digerati Studio brand guidelines. The copy read ‘David Gillett – Tea Maker’ , these were given out with the tea to the design team.

#48 – Tongue
The question ‘TEA?’ was written on a small piece of paper and placed on my tongue. The question was posed to the design team by sticking my mouth muscle out.

#49 – Motion based installation event
Plastic cups from the water cooler were arranged into 3×3 grid and placed on the meeting room desk. Five were filled with water to form a T shape. A powerful fan was then turned on blowing away the empty cups leaving the T shape exposed. The Digerati Studio designers were invited to attend the prestigious first viewing of the installation.

#50 – View Source
The question ‘Would you like a cup tea?’ was placed into the HTML code of a webpage that was send to the Digerati Studio designers.

#51 – Braille
The question ‘TEA?’ was created on Digerati Studio headed note paper in Braille. The intended audience was provided with a blindfold as a clue to interpret the otherwise blank paper.

#52 – iChat
An image of a thirst quenching cup of tea was sent using iChat to my colleagues by way of asking them if they would like a brew.

#53 – Redaction
The question ‘TEA?’ was posed to my colleagues by handing them a book in which a black marker had scored through each line on the first page in such a way that it covered all the letters except T, E, A and ?

#54 – Light painting
The question ‘TEA?’ was posed to my colleagues by the use of multiple light painting sequenced together into an animated GIF. The painting were created in the office with a bike light.

#55 – Interactive Word frequency analysis
The first few paragraphs from the definition if tea on Wikipedia were analysed using IBM’s ‘Many Eyes’ web service. The interactive results were emailed to my colleagues.

#56 – ASCII Art
Using the I created a ASCII image of myself drinking a cup of tea, the plain text was then emailed to my colleagues.

A couple of text samples can be found here and here

#57 – Venn diagram
Created a 3 set Venn Diagram using Tea, Milk and Water… a question mark resided in the overlap of the sets. It was created using

#58 – iPhone application
Used the ‘Tea Time’ iPhone application to ask if my colleagues would like a cup of tea. The application suggests the ideal brewing time for a cuppa based on the type of tea, desired strength and whether the leafs are loose or in a bag.

#59 – Pie Chart (by Paznow)
Pascal from Paznow created this pie chart in response to my last Venn diagram, in these dark financial times not one pixel can go to waste so it was used as the basis for the question ‘would you like a cup of tea’ pitched to my colleagues. It was created using

#60 – Cats asking the question
Using the tools at I created a series of image that combine cats and the question ‘would you like a cup of tea’

#61 – Morse Code
– -.– -.-. — .-.. .-.. . .- –. ..- . … .– . .-. . … . -. – .- -. .- ..- -.. .. — ..-. .. .-.. . .– …. .. -.-. …. -.-. — -. – .- .. -. . -.. – …. . — — .-. … . -.-. — -.. . ..-. — .-. .– — ..- .-.. -.. -.– — ..- .-.. .. -.- . .- -.-. ..- .–. — ..-. – . .- .-.-.- – …. . -.-. — -.. . .– .- … -.-. .-. . .- – . -.. ..- … .. -. –. – …. . …- . .-. -.– ..- … . ..-. ..- .-.. – — — .-.. .- – …. – – .–. .– . -… -. . – –… –… .-.-.- -.-. — — -.-. –. .. -… .. -. …. . .-.. .–. . .-. … — — .-. … . .-.-.- .–. .-.. .-.-.- .. -. -.. . -..- …. .. -… .. – .– .- … ..- … . -.. – — … – — .-. . – …. . -. — -. — — .-. … . -.-. — -.. . …- . .-. … .. — -. — ..-. – …. .. … – . -..- – .-.-.-

#62 – Yammer
Using the Instant Messaging System Yammer, my colleagues where asked if they ‘You would like a cup of tea?’…instantly.

#63 – Cutlery Sculptures
Sculptures created from cutlery were arranged on around the kettle.

#64 – Post-it note sculpture
Created 3D sculptures from post-it notes stood on their end. Each letter of the word TEA was colour coded and created from several sets of post-it notes joined together.

#65 – Bus Slogan
Using the Bus Slogan Generator created an image of an advertising banner on a bus with the slogan “There’s probably no point asking… but would you like a lovely cup of tea?” which was then sent to my colleagues.

#66 – Multilingual
Recorded friends and family saying the phrase “would you like a cup of tea” in various languages, including; French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Welsh, Japanese and Geordie.

#67 – Stickies
Using the program Stickies that comes with Mac OSX, I arranged the notes in to the word CUP and added …of tea? into the last note. I used ScreenToaster to capture the event then emailed the link to the to my colleagues.

#68 – Face writing
Wrote the ‘TEA?’ on my face using a board pen. Having taken a picture of the result I headed over to to manipulated the image.

#69 – Toogle
Passed the query string ‘Cup of tea?’ into online search tool Toogle. The resulting URL was emailed to my colleagues.

#70 – Universe
Passed the query string ‘tea’ into the Jonathan Harris project Universe. The resulting URL was emailed to my colleagues.

#71 – Chairs
Post-it notes were used to block out holes on the back of office chairs to create letter forms and when place together created the question TEA?

#72 – Chairs 2.0
Office chairs we arranged to form the letter T.

#73 – Toilet paper
Using a combination of Sellotape and toilet paper the word TEA was spelt out in the office loo. The message was left for my colleagues to discover. Because some elements of the letters where formed by columns in the ceramic titling and were implied by the existing letterform elements, a certain amount of imagination was needed to visualise the word.

#74 – Cupboard
Having climbed into the (EXCEEDINGLY small) stationary cupboard, I closed the door behind me, waited a few moments then knocked twice. Upon opening the door my colleagues were greeted with the question “would you like a cup of tea”.

#75 – MouthOff
Using the iPhone App MouthOff I posed the question ‘Cup of Tea?’ and offered the app for the response.

Created a parody of the WWII poster ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON’ that’s doing the round in the design community at the moment. It was designed to be viewed below a sister poster of a tipped teapot.

#77 – Speech bubble
Attached a postcard perpendicular to my face. On the postcard was printed a speech bubble which I wrote the brief question ‘tea?’

#78 – Twitter
Used Twitter to broadcast the question “anyone fancy a cuppa?”

#79 – New Maths
Inspired by I created then emailed this image to my colleagues:

#80 – Tea in the Sahara
Whilst on holiday I took this snap, whilst in work I sent it to Graham.

#81 – Time for Tea
A PHP based count down clock was emailed to Oliver exactly 24 hours ahead of myself creating the next batch of tea.
I re-edited the same clock the next day to display well on an iPhone and SMS’ed a link. That way Oliver can have the count down present on his desk at all time.

#82 – Drawing Pins
Drawing pins were arranging into the inevitable question.

Sadly I didn’t record or make note of a great deal of the question variants so in total I’d estimate there was one hundred.

These are the one I never quite got round to…
A quad paper chooser, with four beverage types to choose from.

USE panolab app for iPhone

Use iPhone app

Ransom note-esque styling Metros lying around

Make a tea movie

Use quartz composer to create some kind of Tea based Mac app

Use to set up a treasure hunt round Bath for the Goldern Teabag

Use to do a photo story

Use OmniGraffle to create another flow chart, use sketched look

Use this iPhone App

Water in glass, drop in concentrated tea, photograph T shape

Install on webspores to chart the number of question against number record etc etc

Shave a T into my hair

Use idea

iPhone specific CSS sheet for webspores

foto timer iphone

Use to model-ify a picture of a tea pot in the office

Type out ‘TEA?’ in heavy condensed font, hold vertically and pour water over it, let type drip.

Blow ink into ‘TEA?’

Film video of me making tea and show it on the projector, make b/w and speed up.

Spell out ‘TEA?’ using circles from hole punch. Use template with Bodoni letter forms or simulate boiling kettle

Use Google Maps API to create scrollable list of tea images

Flick book of me making tea, question mark on front cover

Use liquid tool in Photoshop to form TEA? in clouds

Use stats on to do something with info graphics