A weird thought popped into my head on my way to record this interview.
Weird, because I’ve been reading books on designers for thirty odd years and I’d never spotted it.
Also weird, because it’s the opposite of the received wisdom.
The thought was this ‘Good designers can work in many styles, great designers have a distinctive style’.
As Art Directors and Designers we are taught to put their skills at the service of the brand. Let’s say you’re designing for IBM on Monday and Kleenex Toilet Tissue on Tuesday, your output should be as diverse as the products.
You should leave your personal preferences at home.
Be led by the problem.
You should be a chameleon.
Ask anyone, everyone knows this is true.
But weirdly, it’s not.
Take my, and any civilised person’s favourite designer; Paul Rand; you can spot his work a mile off, the hand-writing, playful cut-outs and use of space.
Herb Lubalin, few use or could use type the way he did, so it’s easy to pick his work out of a line-up.
Brownjohn, Vignelli, Fletcher, Gill, Kalman, Scher, you name them, if they are great they’ll have their own style.
Their own visual world made up from their favourite fonts, colours and techniques.
I went to hear Paul Rand talk once, I thought he was going to be all precious and delicate, talking about abstract concepts.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, he was blunt, grouchy and straight-talking, more like a New York cabbie than an Artiste.
Anyway, someone asked him if he was worried that he had a style.
“NO? WHY THE HELL WOULD I BE?
I like what I like, other people like what they like, so our work comes out different.
My work’s unique to Me, their work’s unique to them.
It’s a good thing.”
Out taste is shaped by the culture we take in and gravitate towards as we grow up.
But when we try to copy it we can’t help but add in a few dollops of ourselves which warps it into a new shape.
I remember Bryan Ferry talking about how much he regretted giving away his influences, he felt it made it easier for people to copy him. (I think he was referring to David Sylvian at the time, shows you how long ago it was.)
But it’s odd, Bryan Ferry copied Smokey Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and a whole bunch of other folks and it came out Bryan Ferry.
I’ve been trying to think of someone whose work is like Mark Denton’s.
I couldn’t and still can’t.
He once described the issue like this ‘People look at my work and put me in this little box, the thing is, I like it in here.’
We had a great chat about Mark’s new book and all the ingredients that make up the fruit cake that is Mark’s brain.
It’s a collection of Mark’s design work, so features design staples like letterheads…
More unusually, it features the odd storyboard…
chocolate box interior…
There’s a bit of social commentary…
and some Attenborough-level observations on the animal kingdom…
There’s also a bit of Mark’s personal work…
And at the end, there’s an ‘Outro’ by me. (No, I didn’t know what one was either.)
It’s on sale here https://www.coy-com.com/shop
It’ll make a great Christmas present.
Particularly for kids (If you rip out page 292).
Also parents and grandparents alike (again, probably best rip out page 292).
And anyone interested in design.
p.s. If none of that appeals to you, maybe you have a damp patch on the wall that you need to cover?