David Hillman was just 18, fresh out of the London College of Printing when he landed his first job on The Sunday Times’ new colour magazine, back in 1962.
Nearly 40 years on and one of the senior partners at Pentagram, he has enjoyed an illustrious career in editorial design and corporate identity, working on at least 35 publications, including his personal favourites Nova, where he was art director from 1968-75; The Guardian newspaper, which he redesigned in 1989; and his design for the first computerised daily newspaper, Le Matin de Paris, in the 1970s.
He has remained highly motivated by the very different strategic and intellectual challenges each new project brings, requiring the designer to become an instant expert in the business of each new client. ‘The thing that keeps you going is the variety of work you do,’ he says, finding great scope when he joined Pentagram in 1978, which gave him the opportunity to explore other areas of design, such as corporate identity.
For him, the only low point has been the ‘awful’ boom years of the 1980s. ‘Everyone around us was doing it totally for the money. It was the only period I thought it might be the time to get out,’ he says. He wouldn’t swap his exciting time starting out in the 1960s for today’s competitive climate. ‘I’d hate to be what I was in 1962 now. When I left LCP there were only 20 other graduates. The idea of leaving a school now with hundreds of students all chasing the same jobs…’
Hillman is critical of the way design education has become more academic – ‘there’s a lot of talent out there who don’t have five A-levels’ – and also wishes there was some way of making it tougher for designers to practise, as in the more regulated architectural profession. He has no plans to retire. ‘I have no graceful exit planned. As long as I don’t embarrass my partners, I’ll go on as long as I can. It would be difficult to replace what I do. The day goes incredibly quickly and the older I get, the faster it goes,’ he says.