Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Why Not Associates is about to launch a book of its work (published by long-term collaborator Edward Booth-Clibborn). Those merry pranksters of leading-edge design are the graphic form-givers to the Government’s version of design-puff, the Whitehall’s Powerhouse exhibition, and are converts to bird-watching. Why the interest in feathered friends? Because the Why Nots have been collaborating with sculptors and city councillors to produce a stunning piece of public art for a northern seaside town, a typographic pavement dedicated to the winged wildlife which congregates in Morecombe Bay.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Fed by an ability to visualise beyond the page and a love of experimentation – with the Mac, photography, collage, 3-D structures and time-based media – original members Andy Altmann and David Ellis, working with new(er) boys Pat Morrissey and Iain Cadby, provide innovative solutions to a diverse client list. From directing a party political broadcast for Labour, to an installation for Kobe Museum of Fashion (in conjunction with audio-visual specialist Simple), to the attention-grabbing poster for the Royal Academy’s blockbuster art show Sensation.
Altmann explains, “Because we’ve got a folder full of ‘interesting’ work, clients come to us knowing full well what they’ll get. So 80 per cent of the time we do what we want to do, but all the time we have to consider their needs or we might as well be painters. You learn to know how far you can go. Every job has a line you can push right up to, and to get the best results you’d be standing on it. Step over and you’ve blown it, and the knack is knowing.” Ellis adds, “The clients do direct the work. The spark, the impetus comes from the problem. Knowing where to pitch it on a sliding scale between complete clarity and bloody mayhem, with the fonts and the photographer and the crop is the key.”
Coming from an “ideas-based” background via degrees at Central St Martins, and then being let loose at the Royal College of Art during Gert Dumbar’s residency as Professor of Graphic Design, Altmann and Ellis are in that enviable position of knowing the rules and feeling justified in breaking them. Altmann: “We had the idea of putting our personalities into our work, adding an extra bit of humour. I’m a big fan of comedy, I think you can do nothing better than make someone laugh. There are extras hidden in our work, and a lot of chance involved.” Ellis continues, “…a key moment was designing the Queen’s anniversary stamps for the Royal Mail (in 1992). We knew there were certain areas we couldn’t stray into, but we desperately wanted to solve ‘the problem’. So we had to step outside what we were doing.”
Never afraid to try something new, never restricted by “style”, Why Not Associates mixes intellect, image-making skills and instincts to produce unique solutions which are sincere, clever and always surprising.