Red Design has built its career on designing record sleeves for the likes of Fatboy Slim and David Gray. Richard Clayton speaks to founder Ed Templeton about how it’s coping with a changing music industry
Hanging out in nightclubs would get him nowhere, Ed Templeton’s tutors said. But they were wrong. Contacts made while DJing in Brighton, as a student during the early 1990s, helped him and co-founder Hamish Makgill to set up shop there ten years ago, after Templeton decided working in-house at Polydor wasn’t his bag. Though Makgill left the consultancy ‘amicably’ three years ago – ‘he didn’t like the managerial side as we grew bigger,’ Templeton explains – Red Design’s star continues to rise.
Recent projects for unit-shifters, such as David Gray and McFly, have confirmed the group’s elevated status as chart-topping designers in the music industry, though its most memorable hit must be Fatboy Slim’s 1997 album, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby. And there is a neat story behind the found image of that tubby, T-shirted kid, who quickly symbolised the Fatboy brand.
‘The label had a feeling that record was going to sell, though not as much as it did, and their brief was, “we want a number one album cover”,’ Templeton says. ‘The image turned up in a French photo library – I can’t remember the name – but the photograph was taken at the Fête des Grosses, or Festival of the Fat, in 1973, somewhere in America.’
Red Design, too, has come a long way since then, but this association with Skint Records was crucial from the off. ‘At the time we started, in late 1995, there wasn’t a design company I wanted to work for in Brighton, and the only option was to do it ourselves,’ Templeton recalls. ‘Our ambition was to design record sleeves, but there wasn’t a ten-year plan or any thought beyond six months. Damian Harris, who runs Skint, gave us office space, and we swapped design for rent. Fatboy’s success then meant we were able to knock on the majors’ doors with something.’
All along, Templeton’s choice of work has balanced commercial bankers with more credible artists, such as Super Collider, the recording name of Jamie Liddell and Cristian Vogel, also friends from his DJ days. Another commission – a series of 12-inch singles for Norwegian electro-popster Annie – involved illustrator Jasper Goodall, a friend from college. ‘It was nice to work with him early in his career, because he’s gone on to become a bit of a star as well,’ Templeton adds. There have also been long-term collaborations with photographers, including David Ellis and Jason Evans.
As a way of ‘keeping things fresh’, Templeton and his team create covers for Juice, a Brighton listings magazine. Red Design’s ‘illustration arm’, now represented by Debut Art, has grown out of this, though the Juice treatments have experimented with fashion photography as Templeton’s image-making extends its reach.
Record sleeves, as we can still (just about) call them, and music-related briefs comprise ’60 or 65 per cent’ of the business. That includes idents for MTV and VH1, plus some flirtations with animated videos for bands such as Quantic. But diversification is increasingly important for the six-strong group, which Templeton hopes to expand to ten people soon. He numbers shoe brand Clarks, the tailor Gresham Blake and a regeneration consortium called Aura Newcastle among the consultancy’s other clients. Why diversify? Well, in a word/ downloading.
‘This issue keeps cropping up and we’ve got to think about it seriously,’ Templeton reflects. ‘The reality is, I don’t think the single cover will last long – there isn’t a market for it. The album I see for at least another ten years, but the budgets involved are diminishing. Audiophilies are collectors, who will always want the physical object. But, for under-16s, it’s neither here nor there – it’s just another thing to put on their mobile.
‘For us, as designers, it’s about working out the formats, and the more we learn, the more we understand. Consumers will download an animation or short film when they download an mp3. People will buy the visual equivalent of ring tones and, rather than one iconic image, there’ll be a visual palette for the album.’
Although he is no computer geek, Templeton’s strategy going forward seems to be ‘follow the technology’. Whatever the future holds, he will be painting it red.